Under the Desktop: Thanks for the Memory
As the recent turkey celebration in the United States fades into the haze of memory, readers' thoughts may turn toward the looming holiday season. On the mind of gift givers: What do you give the creative professional who has everything? One stocking stuffer sure to be appreciated -- even by those whose holiday observance excludes ritual footwear -- is some additional RAM.
Many content pros seek performance gains, usually through the purchase of a new machine with a faster processor or perhaps with multiple CPUs. And there's no doubt that both of these factors will have the most direct influence on the speed and response of graphics applications, such as Adobe Photoshop. Yet, processor speed is not the only route to improving performance.
According to Adobe engineer Chris Cox, the key to speed in Photoshop is straightforward: "The more RAM the better."
Cox explained that, as we work on an image, Photoshop tries to fit as many operations as possible into RAM, including Undos and History states. This use of memory -- with no difference between Macs and Windows platforms -- lets you quickly test out a filter on an image or revert to a previous version, instead of forcing the application to perform an action (or a sequence) over and over again. That would really take time, even with a fast processor.
In addition to productivity, the holding of images in RAM also benefits your creativity. After all, who wants to wait around for a large image to be redrawn or processed when you get an idea? You want to dive right in and make digital mud pies. Productivity is more than the speed of crunching an image, it's also how the computer interface responds to your work.
"First, add more RAM, then faster and larger hard disks," Cox said. He suggested that Photoshop users pack their logic boards to the max then upgrade the storage subsystem to the most your budget allows.
When Photoshop runs out of RAM for operations, it then writes the information to a temporary file on the hard drive, called a scratch disk. I mentioned this in my previous column. Of course, RAM by design is faster than even the top-of-the-line hard drive or array.
The performance boost you might see from adding RAM to your machine depends on many variables including how much RAM you currently run, the size of images you work with, and the speed of your storage device. But according to published reports the gain in graphics applications can be from three to five times.
What's more, the additional memory can improve the performance of Mac OS X and Windows XP. Or just enable it to run. I passed through a real Mac OS X performance hurdle on my iBook 2001 when I moved from 128 MB to 384 MB. I've read online postings that describe similar significant leaps in performance can be found when RAM is increased past 750 MB.
Microsoft claims that Windows XP has minimum need of just 64 MB of RAM and a 1.5-GB drive -- yeah, right. A realistic minimum RAM configuration for XP would start at 256 MB. Coincidentally, there are many promotions for a free 256MB DIMM with the XP upgrade. For professional graphics applications you'd want 1.5 GB or more if possible. (On a related note: Hardware mavens point out that the default Windows XP Professional installation takes up 1.29 GB of space on the drive, leaving no room for actually making productive use of the system. So much for minimum-system specsmanship.)
Long on Memory
Longtime computer users are often amazed at the current low prices for memory. For example, the cost of a 512-MB PC133 SDRAM DIMM is about $50. Back in 1985, I remember buying a 512-KB memory card for more than $500. But will the rock-bottom current rates hold?
Could the slump in the technology market and closure of manufacturing facilities affect prices? Or might the recent release of Microsoft's Windows XP increase demand throughout the market and cause RAM prices to rise?
"XP requires more RAM, but not enough more to keep all the current fabs busy," said Peter Glaskowsky, senior analyst with MicroDesign Resources of San Jose, Calif. "As long as there are any hungry DRAM vendors, there won't be major price hikes."
RAM makers produce memory modules to order for computer and server companies who then use them in their products. The left overs or extra production capacity is then offered to the so-called after-market. This is the RAM that you or I can buy in stores or through mail order. According to Glaskowsky, only when the RAM vendors of "last resort are booked solid" may we see dramatic price rises.
So, for those of us requiring vast quantities of memory, the good news is that current prices are low and dramatic price increases are unlikely. Of course, they could also rise slowly.
Nevertheless, some creative pros haven't gotten with the plan on RAM. Ages ago perhaps they put perhaps 512 MB of RAM -- a sizable amount for those days -- in a machine and then forgot about it. We would do well to listen to the advice of the medieval sage known as Ibn Gabirol: "If the ear is stuffed, what use is the warning bell." There is no time like the present to pack your computers with as much memory as they can handle.
Read more by David Morgenstern.
Liked This? Read These!
SanDisk Corporation introduced a new line of SanDisk Extreme Pro CompactFlash memory cards, setting a new standard for fast, reliable, high-capacity memory cards designed for professional... Read More
Sony Electronics is transforming static, digital images into a rich audio visual experience with the world's first dedicated photo storage unit with high-definition output. Read More
Eye-Fi Inc., a company dedicated to helping people navigate, nurture and share their digital memories, today unveiled the Eye-Fi Card -- the world's first wireless SD memory card for digital cameras. Read More
Lexar Media, a leading global provider of memory products for digital media, is giving digital photo enthusiasts the opportunity to "cut the cord" with the introduction of its Shoot-n-Sync™ Wi-Fi®... Read More