Memory is akin to a plane upon which lay your information and the tools to analyze it. The larger the surface, the more tools and information you have available at once, the faster and more satisfactory the results. RAM is also volatile, meaning that if for any reason your computer is switched (or logged) off, the surface is wiped clean, and you have to start anew.
I view the amount of system memory as the most influential factor on a computer’s performance. For simplicity, I will only discuss the amount of RAM, rather than its type or speed, as the most directly correlating to performance gains.
A unit of binary information is called a bit. Binary means a bit is either a 0 or a 1, off or on. Eight bits make a byte. 1000 bytes, or more specifically, 1024, comprise a Megabyte (MB), and if you multiply again by 1000, you have a Giga Byte (GB).
A modern operating system requires at least 1GB to operate (Vista hogs more, XP less), and every program you launch will also reside in memory. So you obviously need more than 1GB. The more programs open at the same time, the more memory is required.
If you have a 32-bit system, then you should employ all the 3GB it allows you to install. On a 64-bit system, 4GB is usually the sweet spot. At any rate, the vast majority of users will seldom if ever need more than 6GB.
A few ulterior considerations on memory: RAM is comparatively cheaper than other performance-boosting options, and dollar by dollar will return the best results. As with processors, particular care should be employed in case of upgrade. Motherboards have different amount and format of available memory slots; they may require dual memory, in which case memory sticks would have to be installed in pairs, or even triple memory on the newest boards (if you follow PC advertising you will notice the latest trends offer 6, 9 or 12GB; those are all multiple of triple memory sticks).
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