More RAM or a faster hard drive?

April 30th, 2009

Here's an interesting question I received today ...

Question: Depending on whether you have a 32-bit Windows or 64-bit Windows, which makes more sense; adding more RAM or fitting a faster hard drive (such as a solid-state drive or SSD)?

A lot depends on what you do with the PC, so I'll look at the general picture and then some more specific scenarios.

On the whole, the gains from adding more RAM to a 32-bit Windows system start to tail off at about 3GB (when entire OS can only address 4GB, so there's no point going over that). so if you've already got 2GB or so of RAM installed then adding a faster drive will give you more bang for the buck than adding more memory at that stage. If you've got less than 2GB of RAM, then add the RAM first.

On a system with 64-bit Windows installed things are a little different. Here you get performance gains up to 8GB, and you should make sure that you have at least 4GB of RAM fitted. Below 4GB, add more RAM, but if you have 4GB installed then you'll get more benefit from fitting a faster hard drive.

Finally, let's look at some specific scenarios:

  • While many games need at least 2GB of RAM, because the level files are huge you can cut down loading times considerably by installing a faster drive (and loading the games onto that drive).
  • Applications such as Photoshop that load and save huge files also benefit from a fast drive.
  • If you want a quiet PC then an SSD is great, but you can also find cheaper regular drives that are great for applications such as media centers, such as Western Digital’s Caviar Green drives, or the Seagate Barracuda LP.
  • If you have lots of digital photos, a fast drive will help you scan through them quicker.

Remember that these are general guidelines and your mileage could vary.

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 30th, 2009 at 09:10 and is filed under Questions from Visitors. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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