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Hi there Internet!
It’s Dan again, bringing you the next edition of the NexiPC BLOG. The topic for this week is RAM and drives. How exactly can you choose the best ones for your needs? This is a pretty broad topic so this will take the majority of the post today (and it may be a long one, lol). So let's go ahead and dive right in.
To start with we need to focus on RAM and drives separately, as while they do have similarities that make them seem alike, they are very different. The primary difference between the two is that while both act as a type of “memory” for the computer in the form of information storage, the ways they do this and the ways that information is used are very different. This is a topic that can become very technical as there is a lot to learn about both devices, but in this conversation I will be avoiding this. There are plenty of places to go to read some very technical discussions of the technologies involved in these devices if you are interested. This BLOG will be aiming to make this information relatable though, so this will not be a deep dive into the technical aspects of these devices.
Let's start with RAM. RAM (Random Access Memory) is one of the two types of information storage on a computer. Because of the special way that RAM is connected to the processor of the computer, RAM is very very fast and this is critical for your computer to function properly. All of the information on your computer that makes it work is not needed all of the time, most of it is used very rarely if ever. Some of that information on the other hand is needed on a near constant basis to make sure that things are working smoothly. Graphics are a good example of this. If your computer needed to wait a quarter of a second between asking for and getting the next frame of the show you are watching, you would notice this. (And it would make things impossible to watch probably.) RAM is able to make the time between asking and getting the information as small as is possible, and this is one of the things that makes modern computers actually able to work the way they do.
So RAM is a type of memory. So…. more memory would be better then, right? Well, not so much actually. RAM is one part of your system that it really is best to tailor to your specific needs. Too little and your system will be an expensive paperweight, too much and you will just be throwing money at a problem for no return. The best advice for this is to monitor you RAM usage on a system that you already have access to and plan accordingly, but with that said if you have to lean to one side or the other lean toward more than you think you would need. This is because if you run into a RAM shortage your system may decide to just slow down significantly, or it might decide to just shut down totally and force you to restart it constantly.
I know that most people will not have the time to spend doing this though, so I will give at least some kind of cheat sheet for this (it will only be accurate for about a year or two at most likely though).
4 GB is likely only good for you if you are only doing very light activities like browsing the web with very few pages open or light “Office/School” type activities.
8 GB should be sufficient for most people’s uses, this will work for all but the most computer intensive office environments or school settings, it is sufficient for most games, and is more than enough for watching internet video.
16 GB is needed for many more modern games and is also required for a great number of different professional tasks, so this is about the highest I would recommend to most people if you are not certain exactly what you need.
32 GB and higher is really only needed if you already know that you need it. Really only professionals, or people with access to professional type programs, will have needs that will utilize this level of system resources.
So that gives you an idea of what to aim for depending on what you plan to do, but I do recommend checking out your own usage as well.
Alright, so let's talk drives now. The drive is the other form of “memory” for a computer. Unlike RAM though drives are much better at holding onto information but are much slower. Even the fastest drives currently available to the public, modern SSD’s, are slow when compared to RAM speeds, but this type of memory does not need to be fast to be effective. Drives get around their speed limitation by being extremely efficient and big, they are able to store information in very precise locations and then by using a part of the drive itself to write it’s “Table of Contents” to, it can access and provide that information fairly quick. Even with this limitation though, your drive is one of the most important things to consider when planning your system if you want it to be fast. Mostly because of SSD’s which are a type of drive. So what are the types of drives?
HDD’s (Hard Disk Drives) are what most people probably think of when you think of a computer drive. It is a box with some spinning metal discs inside that a special magnet can write information onto and then read that information back off of. This is old technology and has been around since the 1960’s, but they are fairly reliable with the amount of research that has gone into them. The primary issue with HDD’s today is the speed, they are slow, but an important secondary issue with them that many people are not aware of is how bad they are at handling any kind of vibration or drop. Back when they were created, computers did not operate incredibly fast so the speed limit of these drives was not as much an issue. As technology grew though there reached a point where computers were moving far faster than these drives could keep up with effectively and suddenly that speed limit became a very big issue. Due to the way that they operate, by spinning the discs inside the box, you also simply can't make them go faster as they will just break themselves in this process, and this is also the issue with vibrations. Everything inside the box has to be so close together to work properly that even a tiny tiny change can cause the whole thing to destroy itself which of course is a major issue. From the beginning, it was known that these drives did not tolerate shocks well though and in some cases a drive could be made useless just by being transferred from one area of a building to another. So smart people began looking into a different way of doing this, and this is where we get to SSD’s.
SSD’s (Solid State Drives) are much newer technology than HDD’s, having been designed and created in pieces through the late 70’s and 80’s and into the early 90’s when the first commercial SSD was released. Due to their design they did not have the issues that HDD’s suffered from, namely: the speed limit issues, and the issues with absorbing shocks. And boy are they good at this. I often tell people who are wondering about SSD’s about my first time using them as I think it is a fairly common story. Using a system with a new, modern HDD my system would load up to the point where I could actually start doing things without it giving me the old spinning wheel in about 2 minutes or so. Incredibly fast when compared to the computers that I used to use in the 90’s or early 2000’s, so I never thought that an SSD was something that I needed. My system was plenty fast enough. Then I turned on my first system with an SSD. In about 15 seconds the system went from totally off, dead as a rock, to running and ready to go waiting for me to ask it to do something. It was not a level of difference, it was not merely faster than what I was used to, it was like magic. It was like waking up, and as soon as I could afford to do so I went out and bought my current system with an SSD. I used to go cook breakfast or take out the trash while my computer got ready in the morning, and now my system is ready faster than I am. The ability for SSD’s to also take a drop or bump without it destroying the whole thing is very nice and made laptops actually work well as a product, but the speed is by far the most significant thing the average person will get from adding an SSD to their life.
So how does one choose the right drive? From reading my glowing remarks it would seem the right drive is an SSD and do not look at anything else, but this does not really take everything into account. The issue with just going with SSD’s is that while they are great, they are also really really expensive. For the same price you could get either a very small SSD or you could get a very large HDD, and this is where you have to make tough choices. If price is not an issue for you go with SSD’s. All SSD’s. You can easily make all of the storage on your system SSD’s and this is by far the best option. If you are like most people though and you do not have money pouring out of your ears, you will likely need to find a balance. I typically recommend for people to do a “one of each” type of situation for the most effective price to performance. Even a small SSD used as the drive that your system boots from will provide all of the speed benefit that a larger one would (mostly) and this is much more cost effective than a larger SSD. When paired with a larger HDD drive for your primary storage needs this system will give you the benefits of both drives with few of the drawbacks.
Well that about sums up these two components. I could write many more pages of information about this topic, but I think this is the important stuff and it should help at least point you in the right direction with these items. The topic of the BLOG next week will be the different types of connections that drives can have as you may have heard some of these names thrown around. We will see if we can work through some of the confusion around them and help you understand what is what with this topic.
Till next time folks, have fun. I will talk to you then.