For some people, RAM is a precious resource that must be managed carefully. This is especially true for those with systems that have only the minimum amount of RAM necessary to run their versions of Windows. It’s also a reason why many people intuitively choose to download and install programs that will manage this RAM and shave off as much of it as possible from programs to make the computer run faster. Assuming you have Windows Vista or any other version later than Windows XP, I’m about to explain to you a common misconception about memory and how it’s optimized in your operating system.
RAM Optimization Tools Do Nothing (In More Recent Windows Versions)
Perhaps you’ve noticed a little bit of a bump in speed when using a memory optimizer in Windows. Or maybe it was all psychological auto-suggestion. Who knows? Well, let’s have a look at what goes on under the hood, shall we?
In Windows XP and earlier versions, if your RAM was almost full, you would experience a huge drop in performance, which required that you use some sort of tool to get rid of all the nasty stuff occupying your computer’s resources. In fact, you were limited to 4 GB unless you used a 64-bit OS (which wasn’t available before XP). This still rings true, but it was more critical back in the day when 64-bit operating systems were just starting to make their mark on the computing fray. RAM optimization was, quite frankly, a must.
After Windows Vista came along, RAM optimizers were still commonplace. Vista was Windows 7’s deaf and crippled cousin, eating up resources like a frat party. People were alarmed at how much RAM was being allocated out of the blue, and the only way to push back was with these tools. Unfortunately, they did this to no avail. This wasn’t really the problem. Vista was just lousy, that’s all. RAM occupation had little to do with your problems, and when it did, it was because of a memory leak sprung out of control. The RAM optimization tool became the world’s most popular do-nothing gimmick.
You see, Vista and later versions of Windows started fetching memory from programs, pre-loading them into an addressing space before you ever started them. With predictive technology (known as “Prefetch” or “Superfetch”), it took the programs you used the most and slapped them onto your RAM without you ever knowing about it. RAM optimization will just get rid of this cached memory, which really has no effect on your performance, since Windows would have done this already once it determined that your memory’s full. It does this in two ways: It either tells Windows to force all its running programs to use the page file (which is way slower), or it gulps down the rest of your RAM just so Windows flushes out the cache and then shrinks back to its original size.
Just like SSD optimization, RAM optimization is simply redundant. And just like SSD optimization, it could also be counter-productive, because…
It Can Even Slow Down Your Computer
You read that correctly. RAM optimization can actually create more problems than it solves. Allow me to explain: Your most frequently used programs actually need to load into memory before you see them on your screen. The delay between one thing and the other is what causes that annoyance in which you have to wait for them. Of course, your hard drive also helps slow this down even further. But right now, we’re focusing on RAM memory, not physical storage.
If you run optimization, you simply delete the cached RAM with no effect on what you’re actually using. In Windows Vista and above, full RAM is good RAM. It’s RAM put to good use. If you’re using Windows 7, you can actually see the caching process at work:
That’s my computer’s physical memory details in the task manager’s “Performance” tab. Notice how I only have 5 MB of free ram. By the way, Windows 7 and newer versions show you your real RAM usage. Vista did not do this, which led to a lot of confusion about why most of the RAM is in use. If I use a RAM optimization tool right now, programs like Chrome won’t load as quickly.
If your computer is working slowly and occupying tons of RAM with actively running applications (in other words, it has no room for caching anything), then go to your local computer hardware store and get yourself a RAM upgrade. Optimization will simply do nothing (or worse, it will just tire out your OS). Let us know what you think by typing up a comment!
Image credit: Hand Holding Ddr Memory from BigStockPhoto