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XP, 1g proc, is 384 RAM enough for basic business apps?

Posted on 2006-05-31
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Alright, I know this question has been asked, for years, about 20,000 times, but there's also 20,000 conflicting answers.

I maintain a few computers which run Windows XP SP2 with 1gh procs (a bit slow) and
384mb RAM.

These users use ONLY basic business apps - MS Word, simple Powerpoint files, web browsing, low-res image viewers, email.

My question is - if I upgrade them from 384mb to 512, or maybe 640, will it really make a speed difference?  My guess would be "no", but if you've found differently, please chime in.

I'm aware of the "the more RAM the better", but I don't quote believe this - there must be a minimum "sweet spot" for business apps in which more RAM wouldn't show any noticable speed.

(In terms of future expansion/needs, I'll be buying them new computers in a year.)

Thanks
-Jonathan
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Question by:JONATHANHELD
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by:Callandor
Callandor earned 400 total points
ID: 16799972
It will make a difference if swapping is occurring, due to insufficient RAM.  Take a look at task manager and see what is going on with free memory and how much is swapped.  Swapping is extremely slow, compared to programs operating entirely in memory.  I would say 256MB is the minimum for WinXP and 512MB is much better.  You also need to take into consideration the size of the documents and spreadsheets that the users typically modify.
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phototropic earned 400 total points
ID: 16800004
XP eats memmory. It will be happier with 640mb than with 384mb. Whether your clients notice a change in performance depends entirley upon what apps. they are running.
If they plan on doing a lot of on-line gaming then yes it will make a difference.
But "MS Word, simple Powerpoint files, web browsing, low-res image viewers, email."?
I'd be surprised if they noticed. You could probabley produce a broadly similar effect by backing up crucial data and performing a clean install of XP!
If their machines are protected (av software/spyware scanner/firewall) and regularly cleaned (%temp%/cookies/temp.int.files etc) there should be little noticable difference as far as your users are concerned.
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by:Lee W, MVP
Lee W, MVP earned 400 total points
ID: 16800039
Essentially what Callandor said.

I'll add that today, there are a lot of little programs a system might end up running - and not always by conscious choice.  The google toolbar takes more memory (maybe an otherwise insignificant amount, but the program didn't exist 5 years ago so back then it took NOTHING).  Your Antivirus takes memory.  Antispyware takes memory.  Antispam (if you use it client side) takes memory.  I agree, check task manager and see how things are do (especially the second graph).  Frankly, for basic office stuff, I'd up the RAM... maybe to 512 or 768, then I wouldn't upgrade the PCs for a while.  Possibly 2-3 years.  Get a couple for spares as things will potentially die sooner than later now, but why spend the money when you don't need to (or rather, can spend $50-100 and extend the life of a machine for 24-36 months).

At one of my clients, MOST systems are under 1 GHz processors and for everyday office stuff, they are fine (out of 15 PCs, about 10 are under 1 GHz).
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by:AndreDekolta
ID: 16800069
Hello JONATHANHELD!

I've found that XP is happiest with 1 GB of RAM configured with a pagefile at 1536 (low end) and 3073 (upper).  If cost is a concern then 512 configured with a 768/1536 pagfile seems to be OK.  But, you're talking about a 1GHz processor which is struggling to make things happen.  You'll find that most applications will be a bit snappier with a faster processor.  But again, the processor is a bit slow for XP regardless of what M$ says it's minimums are.

Also, ensure everyone defragments their file system on a regular basis.  This will help things a bit.

Andre...
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by:Lee W, MVP
ID: 16800148
I don't agree - Performance improvements and performance in general depends largely on what you are doing.  If the processor isn't being taxed (again, reference task manager) on a regular basis, then nothing is "struggling" to do anything.  Sure, it may take a couple of seconds longer to load Excel - 2 seconds longer x average of 2 opens a day = 4 seconds per day x 5 days a week = 20 seconds X 52 weeks a year = 1040 seconds = about 16 minutes a year wasted/lost time... if you pay the employee $20 per hour, then you lose $5-6 in employee time to save $500+ on a computer.  Depending on what the employee does, this could be a VERY good trade off.
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by:AndreDekolta
ID: 16800719
Hello JONATHANHELD!

Obviosly "opinions" vary...but suffice to say that "YOUR" application and the "OPINION" of experts may be two completely different things.  Try one idea, memory is pretty cheap now day.  If that doesn't do it, then try the next idea.  The only way to know for sure what will meet your needs is to experiment a little.  See what works for your customers.  After all, that's what is important here.

Andre...
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by:davidis99
davidis99 earned 200 total points
ID: 16802718
As someone maintaining desktops for a small business, I can argue convincingly that more RAM is definitely better.  XP (especially SP2) alone needs at least 256MB to operate smoothly, and is much better behaved at 512MB - this is without launching any applications.  If you're talking about typical business use - having a Word window open, along with an excel window, Outlook, and maybe one or two IE windows, you're talking about 10-20MB per application window, and more if the windows are left open during the course of the day instead of being closed and reopened.  Leaving those programs open and running throughout the day will gradually increase their total usage to anywhere from 150-250MB  of memory (real and virtual), which, when added to XPs memory use, will total between 512MB and 768MB (real and virtual.)  If you only have 384MB RAM installed, the balance of that usage has to be made up by using virtual memory, which is much slower than RAM by a factor of 1000.  Increasing the installed RAM will directly result in decreasing the use of virtual memory, making daily performance much faster;  therefore, increasing RAM to 640MB or even 768MB will be a very cost effective way to increase system performance.
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by:AndreDekolta
ID: 16802736
Thanks davidis99!  I feel better now...
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by:phototropic
ID: 16803311
But the question is: would these users notice any difference in performance? "These users use ONLY basic business apps - MS Word, simple Powerpoint files, web browsing, low-res image viewers, email". I seriously doubt that they would detect any great speed increase. Remember we are being asked to comment on this issue, not what is the optimum memmory install for Win XP.
JONATHANHELD,
Why not take two pcs. Increase the RAM in pc 1. Leave the RAM alone in pc 2, but clean it up: delete all temp. files and folders (use something like Cleanup http://www.stevengould.org/software/cleanup/download.html) msconfig - disable all/ defrag etc. Let users try the machines for a morning, then ask therm to swap for the afternoon. Which pc do they think is the best performer for the applications they are using?
I for one would be really interested to know.
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by:davidis99
ID: 16807086
jonathanheld and phototropic,

they will notice the difference if the RAM is increased - even running "basic" business apps, the users will notice the difference between their systems constantly accessing the hard drive when doing ANYTHING and occasionally accessing the hard drive when doing SEVERAL things.  Typical business users keep at least a few programs running at the same time, referring back and forth between different programs while, and as part of, doing their work.  I support about 50 users running XP SP2, most of who have 512MB installed, but some with 1GB or more.  I get many more complaints about systems being too slow from the users with 512MB than the users with 1GB.  
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Author Comment

by:JONATHANHELD
ID: 16973822
I have assigned points and closed the question.  Thank you for all the advice, everyone!

-Jon  (JONATHANHELD)
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