Q. Do I upgrade my Drive or my RAM?

Q. What is better, a SSD Drive upgrade versus a RAM upgrade?

A. It depends a lot on what you are doing with your computer, whether you have an adequate amount of either right now, and what your goals are.

RAM is the first thing to look at – you need to have *Enough memory, or your machine will be perpetually slow, especially when switching from one program to another. The tricky part is determining what is *Enough. Your operating system consumes some memory right from the start. It used to be you could get by with 4 GB RAM, but with the latest versions of Windows and Mac OS machines really need a base of 8 GB to run efficiently with a few programs. Heavy multitasking wants 16 GB or more or memory. The thing is, once you have *Enough memory for the work that you are doing, so that you are not having to use hard drive Swap files often (see below), then adding more memory than that does not do much to speed up your computing further. The relative improvement is great for upgrading to the Enough point, then the curve starts flattening out after that.

If you are using programs like pro level audio and video creation and editing, 3D modelling, scientific, architectural, photo manipulation and design — well, many of these programs will use all the RAM you can throw at them, 32 GB and up to 128 GB on professional workstations. Check with the requirements for your specific programs.

Once you have *Enough memory for your particular workflow, then you can look at speeding up the drive storage situation. Obviously, if you are literally running out of drive space, you want to make upgrading a priority. But most people (with a little storage discipline and throwing out unneeded files) can live comfortably within a 500 GB drive space. The two goals with drive upgrades are to get faster storage, and to get ample storage for what you do. Upgrading from a spinning hard drive to a Solid State Drive (SSD) makes a major improvement to speed, as SSDs are capable of performing 5 times (or more) faster than hard drives in typical use.

Q. When to do either?

A. When your machine is not keeping up with the demands your software is putting on it, or if the hard drive is showing signs of trouble (how to test your hard drive – Windows) or if your file storage needs exceed the size of the drive.

Having too little RAM when you open multiple programs causes the operating system to swap memory contents onto the drive to make room for more data in memory, then read it back from the drive when that memory is needed again. These are called Swap files or Virtual Memory files. The problem is, a drive is hundreds of times slower than RAM memory, so this causes a noticeable wait while the swap is executed. The more multitasking of programs you do, and the larger the programs and data sets, the worse this gets. This is why the first order of business is to make sure you have Enough RAM.

Then, if you find that your drive is excessively slow, or is completely full, you would consider a faster and larger drive. Spinning hard drives slow down as they get full (the inner tracks are shorter and pass less data under the read/write heads every rotation). If your drive is over 80 % full it’s time to take action, either clean up your data by deleting unneeded files and copying archival files off to external storage. If your drive is over 90% full you are probably already experiencing severe slowdowns in reading and writing.

In either case, a SSD drive is so much faster than a spinning hard drive, and prices have come down to the point where they are an obvious choice in the 1 TB and under sizes. If your machine can take 2 drives, you could put your operating system, programs and current user data on the SSD, and leave the less-used larger file storage on the larger slower hard drive.

As a starting point, the data that consumes the most drive storage are: Videos, Photos, Music, and Downloaded installers and updaters. Decide which of these you either don’t need, or are OK on archival storage, or on an external hard drive or network storage.

Q. I read that upgrading my HDD to SSD is great but should I do this or should I increase my RAM memory?

A. Ideally, you will do both, in balance with each other. But if you have to choose just one upgrade, getting your machine to *Enough memory (as above) is the first priority.

One important exception: Some machines are architecturally limited in how much memory they can recognize. If your machine tops out at, say, 4 GB of memory, then upgrading to a SSD drive is important. You will not be able to stop the operating system from using Swap files frequently, but because SSDs are so much faster than hard drives, particularly in accessing many, small files quickly, an SSD will cut down on the waiting time for Swap file access by a factor of 3 to 4.

Q. I like to keep lots of open tabs in my browser, does it make any difference?

The more you multitask, the more RAM you need. Usually we think of multitasking as running separate programs at once, but it affects browsing habits as well. Google Chrome for example opens a new process for every tab you have open, which can consume many gigabytes of RAM if you open a lot of tabs. Chrome (and the rest of your machine) will run better if you have plenty of RAM to spare. If your work process involves opening many tabs as well as running other applications, look to 16 GB of RAM or more to keep your machine running smoothly.

Lastly, I encourage you to add archiving and backup to your list of considerations. There is no substitute to having a current and usable backup of your data, if you should have a drive or machine failure. You should ideally have more than one backup, including a longer term backup that is kept in a different location.

When you are considering your hard drive requirements, think of how much of your file storage isn’t used on a regular basis and can be archived. If there is a group of files that will be accessed once in a blue moon, if ever, these could be moved off of your main drive to some secondary storage, perhaps on an external drive. Pay some thought how you could organize a filing system that would allow you to find the archived files 5 years from now.

Check with Canadaram.com for the correct RAM and SSD upgrades for your machine

Q&A is a compilation of questions we have answered around the Web

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