We’ve all been there: you’re working on your computer and before you know it, you’re ready to throw it into a wood chipper because it is so slow. Let’s take a look at how a RAM and SSD upgrade can improve your computer’s performance.
Typically, standard consumer grade retail computers have processors that are fast enough for most basic tasks, but lack adequate RAM (Random Access Memory) and contain slow rotating magnetic hard disk drives (HDD). Desktop operating systems (OS), like Windows 10 or Mac OS X, require only about 1-2 GB (gigabytes) of RAM to function. These stated minimum values are simply the bare minimum the system needs to fully start up and bring you to your desktop. Actually using a computer with 2 GB of RAM installed is quite painful to say the least. Increasing the amount of RAM can significantly improve system performance. Additionally, replacing your HDD with a solid state drive (SSD) can further improve performance. In order to understand why, you should know the function of RAM and the HDD or SSD in a computer.
Simply put, the computer uses RAM to store temporary information that it needs to run. When a computer is started up, the operating system is loaded into RAM. Running programs are also loaded into RAM and use RAM to store temporary information. The RAM is erased every time the computer is shut down or otherwise loses power. Random (non-sequential) reads and writes can happen anywhere in RAM in about the same amount of time. Hard drives, on the other hand, suffer in performance when they need to read and write from random (non-sequential) areas of the disk; they must seek (move the read/write head across the disk’s surface) back and forth between reads and writes and then wait for the disk platter to spin to the correct position, both of which take extra time.
If your computer doesn’t have enough RAM, it will temporarily move unused data to a swap file or paging file on the hard drive when more memory is needed. Swapping data in and out of RAM can happen under several circumstances. One such circumstance is when all available memory is being used and you try to run a new program. The system must determine which data in RAM is not being used and move it to disk temporarily to make room for the new program to load into memory. This allows the system to continue to function, but greatly reduces its performance. Increasing the amount of RAM in the system allows the system to keep more data in the fast RAM and have to dump less to the slow swap/paging file on the hard drive.
Now that you know why RAM is important, let’s go over hard disk drives and solid state drives. Hard drives and solid state drives are used to store data on a more permanent basis than RAM. They may be referred to as permanent storage. This name simply implies that the data on the drive is not lost when the drive loses power. Permanent storage drives like HDDs and SSDs are used to store the computer’s operating system, installed programs, and user data (documents, pictures, music, etc.).
A hard drive is an enclosure containing a rotating disk with a magnetic coating and a read/write arm that moves back and forth over the disk’s surface. The read/write arm has a read/write head on the end that can electromagnetically read from and write to the disk passing under it. When data must be read from or written to the drive, the drive’s read/write head must move to the correct location, wait for the disk to spin to the correct location, read or write the data, and move the head to the next location. Moving the arm to the correct location and waiting for the disk to spin to the right place takes time. That is fundamentally why traditional hard drives are slow. A solid state drive, on the other hand, contains no moving parts. SSDs are made of an enclosure that contains banks of high-speed memory chips. Whenever you need to access or save a file, the SSD immediately writes to or reads from the correct location.
Review and Conclusion
So, you know how RAM, HDDs, and SSDs function and work together. RAM is fast, but temporary storage. Hard drives are slow, but permanent storage. Solid state drives are fast, and permanent storage. Whenever you start up your computer, open a program, or open a file, it is read from the permanent storage and loaded into memory. Conversely, whenever you save a file or install a program, it is saved from memory onto permanent storage. Moving data between RAM and permanent storage takes time and can lead to slow performance. In order to have optimal performance, the computer must have an adequate amount of RAM to minimize transferring data to and from the swap or paging file on the permanent storage. Additionally, the permanent storage must be fast. Upgrading your hard drive to a solid state drive is a good idea, increasing the amount of installed RAM is a good idea, and upgrading both is a great idea! Upgrading either one will increase system performance, but the biggest increase in performance comes from upgrading both.