Posted 03 June 2008 - 06:02 AM
In 32 bit versions of Windows it really doesn't matter how much physical memory that you have (performance issues aside for the moment). Windows assigns a 4 gB virtual memory "slice" to each running program. Of that, 2 gB is reserved for kernel process (drivers, hardware, etc), and 2 gB is reserved for user processes (programs, etc).
You can use the /PAE or /3gb switch (unsure of the syntax there) to allocate 3 gB to user processes - but it'll only work if the program is aware of that switch. If the programs aren't aware of this, the switch is ignored.
The Windows Memory manager takes care of swapping around the Virtual memory within the physical memory, swapping it between the RAM and the pagefile - and discarding those pages that aren't needed any more.
The performance issues (mentioned above) come into play when a program's virtual memory use exceeds the physical memory. If it exceeds the RAM, then the pagefile takes up the slack, if it exceeds the pagefile, then the pages are dumped and the program has to be re-read from the hard disk to acquire that information. And, if more programs are running, then it takes more of your physical memory to store all of the virtual memory - so resources are depleted even more rapidly.
You can't physically utilize more than the 3.2 to 3.6 gB of RAM in a 32 bit version of any operating system - it's a physical limit of the operating system and bears no relationship to what your motherboard can support.
Upgrading to a 64 bit version is an option - if your hardware supports the 64 bit OS (I have a TV Card that won't work in 64 bit Vista). Driver support for 64 bit operating systems is lacking when compared to driver support for 32 bit operating systems (it's harder to find 64 bit drivers). I've used both 4gB and 8gB on my 64 bit Vista and have found that the only appreciable difference is that I can keep more programs open without having resource issues (with the 8gB). I have seen no other performance benefits.
Also, I have very few programs that are 64 bit. You just can't find that many that were designed for 64 bit OS's. Finding a 64 bit antivirus was a bit of a chore when I first upgraded. I've also got the 64 bit version of the Windows Debugging Tools, the 64 bit version of Windows Explorer, and the 64 bit version of the Logitech tools for my trackball. Other than that, every other program that I've installed (about 25 - including Microsoft Office) are 32 bit.
8gB modules are expensive, there's no way around that. The most that I can afford at this point are 2gB modules (for a total of 8gB).
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