Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Memory Questions

I know some of you are top-notch computer geeks, so I have a couple of questions regarding computer memory that I’d appreciate some answers to.

The first question relates to Hari’s computer. It should be quite a high performance machine, but she still gets rather low framerates on World of Warcraft. Software-wise her system checks out – it’s not bogged down with unnecessary programs running and she has always been pro-active in checking for viruses and spyware even before meeting me. She has a 128 MB nVidia graphics card and a 2 GHz Pentium 4 processor too.

So we reckon that the one thing she is a bit short of is memory. She has 512 MB, which isn’t bad but could probably be upgraded, especially as her system can take up to 2 GB. Right now she has two 256 MB modules in the two slots on her motherboard.

Because we’re both students and neither of us are swimming in cash, any upgrade has to be good value for money. So we’re aiming for the most amount of performance boost for the least amount of cash – sure, we could go for the full 2 GB but if only going up to 1 GB would give a pretty good performance boost then we’d prefer that as it’ll undoubtedly be cheaper. Question is, what combinations do we go for?
Our options are the following:

  1. Buy new 1 GB module and take out both 256 MB modules and sell them (total RAM: 1 GB)
  2. Buy new 1 GB module, sell one 256 MB module and keep the other (total RAM: 1.25 GB)
  3. Buy new 512 MB module, sell one 256 MB module and keep the other (total RAM: 768 MB)
  4. Buy 2 new 512 MB modules and take out both 256 MB modules and sell them (total RAM: 1GB)

I’ve heard there may be issues with having differently-sized memory banks, which may make options 2 and 3 inappropriate, but I don’t know how likely these issues are or whether they still apply to DDR RAM (which is what Hari’s machine takes). Buying two 512 MB modules seems to be cheaper but then having a 1 GB module gives more room for future expansion. Any help would be appreciated.

The second question is about memory suppliers. In the past I’ve gone to Crucial because I’ve heard good things about them and they’ve been good to me as a customer, but they can also be expensive. If anyone knows of any good memory suppliers who are cheaper than Crucial then I’d love to hear from you. I’m also contemplating upgrading my Mac Mini to 1 GB, which I’d like to do for £50 if possible – with Crucial it’ll be more like £70 when you include VAT.

19 Comments

  1. I would recommend going with either option 1 or option 4.
    WoW will generally run fine on 512MB until you get to a Capitol city or anyplace with a large gathering of people (e.g. Battlegrounds) and it’s because of the large array of textures used to make up people’s armor and weapons. A few patches back there was only one Auction House for each side plus a neutral one in Booty Bay so Ogrimar and Iron Forge would end up having the highest populations of people in them thanks to the AH. It often made traveling anywhere inside those cities a lesson in single digit frame rates.
    Even now those two cities still tend to be the most popular so lag can be an issue. Simply bumping your RAM up to 1GB is the best way of smoothing that out. It doesn’t totally eliminate the problem, but it is a world of difference and worth the upgrade.
    Whether you use a single 1GB module or two 512MB modules depends entirely on 1) whether your motherboard gains anything by using 2 modules over 1 as many nForce based motherboards like mine do and 2) how much of a difference in price there is. If your motherboard supports Dual Channel Memory Access then go with 2 modules, otherwise it probably doesn’t make a lot of difference.

  2. Oh, and as far as what memory brand to use (forgot to answer that part): Crucial is good as you already know, but I’ve had pretty good luck with Corsair RAM as well. I’ve made use of Corsair’s Value RAM a couple of times and it’s performed very well for the price.

  3. I had a look at Corsair memory but to be honest there’s not much in it with Crucial’s prices. Furthermore, Crucial tend to dispatch more quickly – most of the Corsair resellers didn’t have stock for a few days. Ideally I’d like to get this done by Friday as Hari is going back to her parents’ house so I won’t be able to fit it for a couple of weeks, and I know she’ll want to play WoW quite a bit while she’s away.
    I think we’re going to try option 1 first, and then see if option 2 improves things. A 1 GB module seems to cost about £65 all-in – ideally we’d prefer to spend £50 or less, as I said.

  4. I know this is coming from a different perspective, but has the windows install been there for a long time, and therefore causing slowdown, as it tends to happen? Would a fresh install (after appropriate backups) help with performance at all?

  5. I would also suggest going with a 1GB option. More than 1GB is really not necessary.
    Les is right about the RAM and having one module vrs. two. If your computer uses DDR2 RAM, then I would suggest getting 2 sticks. If I’m not mistaken, DDR2 RAM works faster if in pairs.
    One thing you didn’t mention was what resolution is she running WoW at?
    My current setup is a 3.2GHz Dell with 1GB RAM and an ATI Radeon X800XT video card with 256MB of DDR3 RAM. I run WoW at 1600×1200 with frame rates in the 40’s.
    If you are running at a lower res, I would think the 2Ghz P4 would be more than adequate, then memory and video card is the next to consider upgrading. The Radeon X800 XL shouldn’t be that expensive these days. We bought ours early 2006 for about $250. I just looked and they haven’t come down in price.
    So I suspect RAM is going to be your only path for now.

  6. Andy: I think the install has been around for a while but she’s not the sort of person to install and uninstall lots of software so I don’t think re-installing Windows would make much difference. It would also be a major inconvinience for her too.
    Dave: It’s DDR, not DDR2. She’s running WoW at 1024×768, and 20fps is about the best it can do. In Stormwind and Ironforge it drops below 10 most of the time.
    But if you reckon that 2×512 MB will be faster than 1×1 GB, then we’ll go for that. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  7. Andy: How long Windows has been installed has nothing to do with how well a game like World of Warcraft will perform. The only thing that could possibly be effected is boot time.
    With XP, program installs rarely install DLL’s into the Windows or System32 folder. Some MS software like Office does, but most other software doesn’t. My install of Windows is about 2 and a half years old and it performs just fine. It takes about 45 seconds to fully boot up. That’s about 10 seconds slower than when I first installed it.
    Memory will help a little, but a video card upgrade is your best chance with WoW.
    When it comes to upgrades, memory is the cheapest to try, then video card, then processor.

  8. If I were you i would definitely scan any literature you can find on your chipset to see if it has a Dual-Channel Memory Bus, if it does you’d be silly to not get 2 matching sticks. The performance advantage is generally only noticible in games, but as that’s what you’ll be using it for…
    When I bought ram recently I found Crucial’s pricing to be very dependent on how recent the breed of RAM is. 667MHz DDR2 was way over priced and Corsair charged half of what Crucial wanted. But For more regular types such as 333/400Mhz DDR Crucial are around about spot on for pricing.

  9. I might be mistaken but I think the recommended spec for Windows XP is 512mb so with your current setup you’ll just be keeping the OS happy.
    Chip performance wise, like others are saying, you want either 1 stick or two equal sticks. You do get performance issues if you start mixing and matching brands and sizes.
    For buying I think you can’t beat Crucial, if you can afford it, since using them I’ve never gone with anyone else. I’ve found the customer service to be brilliant and you can’t beat the delivery times.
    Be careful if buying second hand off eBay, a guy I work with got stung last month buying 2 * 1 GB sticks and they were both fried, small print read ‘no returns’, d’oh!

  10. Oh, you can do better than Crucial. I bought 2GB’s of RAM for my MacBook from NewEgg not long ago and it was about $50 cheaper than Crucial. Crucial is great for determining what kind of RAM you need, but I wouldn’t buy from them unless you have no choice.
    As for the 512MB recommended size Microsoft states, I think you are correct. However, putting 1GB of RAM in a Windows system will increase performance a lot. You can put too much memory into a computer. Even though my MacBook supports 2GB, I have yet to peg that. The most memory I have used so far is about 1.5GB. That is due to running Windows with 1GB in Parallels and OS X. I suppose if I bring up Linux and have Windows running as well, I could peg out the memory. That said, I’m sure a game like World of Warcraft or program like Photoshop could use the 2GB without blinking. 🙂

  11. I didn’t think to ask about the video card, but if she’s only getting 20FPS with it then it may be another avenue worth pursuing. Specifically what model card does she have at the moment?

  12. I’d question the sensibility of replacing memory just before sending her off for two weeks, any problems and she’ll be screwed. One office I work for has a policy of not making any changes to a laptop within a week of it going traveling.
    And also, it might be worth defragging the hard disk. It’s probably not going to make much difference, but it’s free to try.

  13. Good point, Richard. As for the hard disk, we have tried defragging it and it’s not made a whole lot of difference.
    To be honest, she does need to clear space on her disk which may improve performance but not much, I can’t imagine.
    I don’t know the exact model of graphics card – will have to check next time I’m over.

  14. Defraging will only improve the speed of loading the program into memory, and not very much at that. Maybe .5 to 1%.
    Freeing up space might improve performance more if the drive that is lacking in space is the same one that Windows puts it’s swap file on. You probably won’t see a gain in the games frame rate, but when you shutdown WoW, it won’t take half an hour to recover.
    Hard drives are not a performance killer when it comes to games. Once a game is loaded into memory, it’s loaded and that is that. When you go into large cities in WoW, you are dealing with loading the video card with textures for all the items people are waring as well as the shear number of poly’s that need to be rendered. The more memory the video card has, the less time it takes to display due to the fact that the textures will probably not need to be pushed out of the graphics card memory.
    When it comes to 3D game performance, the upgrade priority is typically, video card, memory, and finally CPU. Memory is only in there if you are running 512MB’s. Once you get to 1GB, adding memory doesn’t really help all that much.

  15. hey my name is alex and i have a windows xp
    2000, pentium 4, nvidia ge-force 2 32mb video card, and 256 mb ram, but now my computer has been running very slowly and i downloaded the latest drivers but when i want to play my games it runs very slow but when i didnt download the latest drivers my games would run well but lately i have getting messages saying vitel memory to low so im guessing i need memory but if i get memory would that help me out with my games or will i need to buy something else. i will be very thankful if any-1 can help me out.

  16. Alex, not knowing for sure about the memory message you are talking about. Your system has a small amount of memory for most of the modern 3D games out there.
    Can you give us some idea of what games you are playing. Also, what the speed of your processor?
    If you can afford upgrading parts of your computer. Here is my take on your choices in order of “bang for your buck”.
    1. Video card (128MB minimum, 256MB recommended)
    2. System memory (at least 1GB)
    A third option would be processor speed, but that’s an expensive option.
    Also, make sure you don’t have viruses and spyware/adware/malware on your system. Those things will kill your computers performance heavily.
    A way to avoid those programs is to make sure you *DON’T* use Internet Explorer. Firefox or Opera are nice choices that will keep those nasty programs off your computer.

  17. Okay, Alex emailed me his computer specs in full.
    Your processor is 1.60 GHz, which should really be upgraded but it’s an expensive job and one that really requires a specialist to do. 256 MB of RAM is very low – 512 MB is the minimum I’d recommend and 1 GB is probably best for gaming. I’d also get a better graphics card since yours is only 32 MB – you really need at least 128 MB and 256 MB is probably best.
    Your system is running Windows XP SP2, which is good. Ensure your system is regularly up to date with patches and that you do regular scans for viruses and spyware. Running Disk Defragmenter now and again may offer a small boost in performance too.
    Hope this helps!

  18. I Have An Intel Pentium 4 Processer Running at 1.66ghz With 512 mb of ram and alos a Geforce 256mb fx 5200 video card I was Going to buy a 7300gt or i was going to get a 512 mb ram stick… Which Would put me at 756 mb of ram. my comouter is expandable to only 1gb and will only allow a max of 512 in each slot, Planning in a month to put anonther in addition to make up a total of 1gb of ram I was wondering
    What Would Be the best decision I could make For world of Warcraft to run Faster More realistic and at the best image quality for my system! Plz and thankz in advanced.

  19. OK ill give you some idea about how your games are going to run with whatever you decide to buy.
    I have a Athlon64 3500 venice core CPU sitting on a ABit AN8 32X motherboard, 2G of DDR PC 5400 RAM, 2 250G SATA II hd’s and a GF 9700 GTO 512mb DDR3 overclocked etc. Most of my settings on World of Warcraft are still set to low/med and most of the tick boxes for detailing are unticked to get it to run without lag!
    Now my wifes rig has a slighty faster pentium CPU with 1G of Corsair 512MB Value Select PC-4200, 240-pin DDR2, OS is on one 250 SATA II Hard drive and she has a GF 8800GTS 320MB DDR3 ram overclocked (factory) and she runs World of Warcraft with all the settings on High and all boxes tick and has no play lag what so ever!
    What im saying is that for WoW anyways that its your computer as a hole unit that makes the game slow…not just the RAM!