Last month my Gateway GT4014j suddenly died and I replaced it with an Acer Aspire M5201, which came with 2 GB of memory installed. That was less than the 3 GB I had in the Gateway and it affected some very memory hungry apps I use. So three weeks later I did a memory upgrade – a series of upgrades to be more precise. I bought two sets of memory upgrades and upgraded three machines.
In my experience, most computers don’t become obsolete because of CPU clock speeds that are too slow but because either there is too little main memory (RAM) for newer, more demanding (i.e. more bloated) applications or because the machine runs out of disk space. The latter used to be more of a problem than it is now, because of the availability of external USB drives, but lack of RAM is still a problem.
Giving your computer enough memory usually is the best way to give it a performance boost because insufficient memory will result in disk swapping. Without enough memory your applications will spend more time waiting for data to get swapped to and from disk, which slows even the fastest CPU down to a crawl such that even a medium or low end CPU with sufficient RAM could run circles around it.
When Vista came out, many manufacturers still sold 512 MB configurations with Vista Home Basic, while advertising mainly the processor speed. Buyers would have been far better off picking a somewhat slower CPU but equipped with a whole GB of RAM. The same is basically still true today for 1 GB machines (usually with Vista Home Premium) vs. 2 GB machines: More main memory almost always beats more Gigahertz!
Back to my Aspire M5201: It has four DIMM sockets (2 banks) for up to 8 GB of memory (2GBx4), but unless you run a 64-bit operating system such as a 64-bit Linux, Vista 64-bit or (from 22 Oct 2009) Windows 7 64-bit, you can’t actually make use of more than 4 GB. Therefore I opted to go as far as 4 GB only for two 1 GB DDR2 PC2-6400 DIMMs from Crucial Technology (CT12864AA800, from Tsukumo.co.jp). They were 1,980 yen each (about US$22) including sales tax.
I also ordered one 2 GB DDR2 PC2-5300 SODIMM (CT25664AC667) for 3,800 yen (about US$42) for a Lenovo IdeaPad S10e. The S10e is a typical Atom N270 netbook with 1 GB of RAM. One 512 MB SODIMM base memory is soldered in while the other can be replaced with either a 1 GB or 2 GB SODIMM. You end up with 1.5 GB or with 2 GB (not 2.5 GB because the 945 GSE chip set is not capable of addressing more than 2 GB of total memory). The Intel Atom itself supports up to 4 GB, which is why nettops with the NVIDIA Ion chip set such as the Acer Revo 3600 can handle up to 4 GB of RAM. The memory upgrade went very smoothly, especially the netbook. The Acer Aspire M5201 (AMD 780G chip set) now shows 3.75 GB of RAM in Windows while the Lenovo shows 1.99 GB.
Encouraged by that I removed the 1.5 GB of DDR DIMMs from my 2005-vintage eMachines T6212 and transplanted the 3 GB of DDR DIMMs (1 GB x 2 and 512 MB x 2) from the dead Gateway GT4014j to it. DDR memory was superseded by DDR2 3 years ago, but now that old machine that originally came with 512 MB shows 2.75 GB of memory in Windows.
If you’re not sure what memory is right for your machine or how much memory you can fit, Crucial have a convenient Memory Finder application that will figure it out for you.