3GB, 6GB or 12GB Investigated

OS Restrictions explained

Operating System restrictions explained

So you have your shiny new setup and load Windows up for the first time. You check system properties and this is where you come across something that raises more questions than it answers. Windows detects 3GB but you have 6GB installed - no fair! You blame everything, the memory, the motherboard, the BIOS, even Bill Gates but the reality is that nothing is wrong. Nothing except for the limitation of the operating system itself.

Since the advent of the home operating system, memory has seen a dramatic increase in capacity. From the humble 1KB systems of the 1980's to the behemoth multi gigabyte machines we have today. Windows has grown with this increase in memory size and recently, memory has had to play catchup to Windows.. 128MB was the standard for Windows 98, this quadrupled to 512MB for XP and as XP grew older, more and more memory was added to the operating system until we stretched the 32bit limitation with capacities of 4GB or more. For any more memory to be utilised we had to purchase the 64bit version of that operating system which, sadly was not very well supported and those who did upgrade found a plethora of driver issues and incompatibilities that rendered the upgrade a waste of time and effort for many.

Bring on Windows Vista. With Microsoft's latest and greatest OS, both 32bit and 64bit platforms are catered for and both are extremely well supported with very little difference between them, on the exterior anyway.

12gb 1 12gb 2

32bit or 64bit?

Here's where things get a little complex. A 32bit operating system can address 4GB of memory. However, you will also need a graphics card for your setup and everything else that has on-board memory such as a CPU, Hard drives, sound cards etc. You will therefore need to take that from the total amount for Windows to utilise it. MMIO (Memory mapped I/O) is the process by which Windows separates the memory available, memory provided by each device and the process used to communicate between all the different devices. In short if you intend on installing 4GB+ of memory into a 32bit operating system don't because Windows will only 'see' approximately 3GB of it . the 4096MB address space is for the TOTAL system memory not just the memory modules you stick in memory slots.

As luck would have it, the new Intel chipset allows for 3GB of memory to be used in triple channel (3x1GB) which would seem plenty and is still within the boundaries of a 32bit operating system. If you want more than 3GB then you will need an operating system that isn't limited by 32bit technology.

A 64bit operating system totally eradicates this issue as it can address a whopping 8TB of memory, thats right, 8096GB more than any motherboard around at this moment in time can support. Compare this to the 4GB limit of a 32bit operating system and it becomes clear that 64bit is the future. But do you really need this amount today, do you indeed need more than 3GB, would you use that extra capacity?

I think it's time we found out...
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Most Recent Comments

27-03-2009, 18:54:44

Lol at the photos with all the ram. And 200 quid for 12GB, I paid that for 6GB 1333MHz. Prices are really dropping now.

Nice and unique review, really sheds some light on questions which are asked a lot and answered rarely.Quote

28-03-2009, 05:01:48

That was a really good review - I really enjoyed reading that.

I want to have enough RAM to take photos like that though. Quote

28-03-2009, 06:52:46

Outstanding article.

The large leap in the price from 6g to 12g as opposed to the leap from 3g to 6g really pushes the business requirements for the largest kit. The CS4 results show they'll get reward for it professionally in terms of time over work hours. Even tho 6g will do a great job, 12g plus the cost, minus perhaps the vat and time saved would make it viable.

(*cough* most of ours still use 2g in the main, with 4g if they're lucky - don't know of any 8g machines - 775 ofc) If the heads of the departments concerned really had their heads around the figures, they'd be more concerned with maxing the memory of their pcs rather than paying over the odds for a retailed pc with an nvidiafx card that will relatively not help them as much. Go figure.

From what I can see as far as the gamer is concerned, 3g is no issue, particularly for those who fps the majority of the time. I'd perhaps throw in an argument of certain games utilizing more memory over others. 6g for £95 or so in the present climate is surprizingly cheap, meaning I expected it to cost a whole lot more.

I think it will get to a stage where 6g is so cheap that considering u've spent 100s on ur mobo and cpu, a matter of 10s of pounds between 3 and 6 would make it a non-issue and covers more bases.

I'm glad u did an OS reinstall between memory switches, there would have been many complications otherwize.

Great stuff.Quote

28-03-2009, 07:05:52

Cheers for the comments guys.

This was perhaps the biggest, most time consuming article/review I have done thus far. As we have not done a test on this magnetude to date, a lot of experimentation was used to find the optimum testing procedures, image and video sizes etc because, as you say Rast, without a re-install, there were anomolies and strange results that didn't match what I was expecting. Not only that but passing filters over a 4gb image with 3GB of ram ground the system to a halt whereas 12 GB found it a breeze, if somewhat time consuming.

I used each kit for a week's worth of 'everyday' computing. 12GB is definately worth it if you are working with large files and although most of the benchmarks don't significantly back this up, simply opening and closing programs, general vista use etc made the expereince so 'slick'.Quote

28-03-2009, 07:31:56

If u still have the 12g in-house, it'd be interesting if u could create a ram disk and run a game off it. Dunno how u'd do that with Vista.Quote

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