Originally published in The Clarion | May 23, 2012
The personal computers many of us use on a daily basis are somewhat of a mysterious contraption to most. A typical PC user generally doesn’t care what is inside of the metal case, almost always all that matters is that it works. Similar to an automobile, refrigerator, microwave oven or any number of other devices, typical users don’t know (and probably don’t care) what’s inside or how things function. Again, all that matters is that they work. While somewhat overwhelming and intimidating on the surface, personal computers, and most any computing device for that matter, are all generally composed of only a few basic parts. The four primary components of a personal computer are the main- or motherboard, memory, central processing unit and some sort of fixed media. Add in a power supply, some sort of enclosure, removable media and cards or interfaces for connecting external devices including a monitor, and you have a computer.
Over the next few weeks we’ll look closer at each of the required components for a personal computer. Hopefully once we’re done you will look at your desktop PC differently, realizing that what’s inside the box is not some mystery, just a handful of components that work together to get the job done. We will begin with memory – specifically Random Access Memory or RAM. The term memory is often misused when talking about computing devices. People often use the term to refer to the storage capacity of a computer, or the size of its hard disk drive. RAM, or memory, is a critical component of any computing device. From personal computers to large enterprise servers to smartphones, memory is required for the operating system and software to function smoothly and properly. When a user opens an application, say a web browser, the operating system sends that application into RAM, enabling the software to launch and run in a (hopefully) efficient manner. As you can imagine, the more applications running at any given time, the poorer the performance of the system. It is not uncommon for a typical user to simply run out of available RAM by simply having a few software applications open at the same time.
When considering RAM, the old adage ‘more is better’ is always true. Most personal computers are sold with less RAM than the motherboard will support. Because of this, a simple and inexpensive memory upgrade can really help boost your PC’s performance and extend its life. I recently upgraded one of my computer’s memory from 2GB to 8GB (the maximum supported by the motherboard) and upon booting the system felt like I had an entirely new machine. If your personal computer seems to drag its feet on a regular basis, it most likely would be worth looking in to adding additional RAM. The benefit to cost ratio is exceptionally high and, as mentioned previously, will extend the life of your machine quite substantially.