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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

The Reasons Why You Should Not Use Virtual Memory
June 22nd, 1999

Virtual Memory and products like RAM Doubler are quite popular with users who do not want to buy RAM to upgrade their computers. Nevertheless, the arguments to praise them might be the biggest myths I ever encountered on the Internet. In mailing lists, forums and newsgroups, I have seen many people advocate them vigorously. Many people have said that using these solutions does not affect your Mac's performance. Others have reminded me that Apple improves VM all the time, meaning that you do not need to buy physical RAM to increase your computer's memory.

Wrong! It is a big mistake to believe such concepts. This is especially true for Mac users who use Photoshop. Photoshop uses its own virtual memory, thus creating a conflict with any type of virtual memory on your computer. Ask Photoshop experts about what they think of VM. I am not sure they will say, "It is so cool! It replaces the real thing!"

To avoid expensive RAM by using cheaper solutions will also certainly affect your computer's performance in other ways, despite the cries of those who may say otherwise. Benchmark it and you will see the difference. You can also try other methods of testing performance like manipulating a huge photo, using Virtual PC, or any other RAM intensive applications including many of the newer games. In addition, tasks that cause delays between your mouse click (or keystroke) and the moment your Mac becomes fully responsive again will prove me right.

Apple is good at improving virtual memory's performance with its system software updates, but there is no way in the world that VM can actually replace RAM. This is because of the way it works. Virtual Memory uses your hard drive to store some of whatnormally goes into RAM. Your hard drive is nowhere near as fast as RAM is. That's why we use RAM in the first place, because it is so fast. While VM is greatly optimized to make it as fast as possible, a hard drive just isn't fast enough to replace your RAM.

On to RAM Doubler. I never understood why users defend such products and say that they do not affect your Mac's performance. They do. Stability also becomes a big issue. I have talked to dozens and dozens of people about their experiences and most have come to the same conclusion that I have. Although there are exceptions, a whopping majority had crashes related directly to RAM Doubler. Its RAM compression and virtual memory DO affect your Mac, especially when you execute demanding tasks. Even when they do not want to admit it, I have insisted and have usually ended up hearing, "alright, I do crash because of RAM Doubler".

Those who use G3 computers can fall easily for memory solutions. Those beasts are so fast that a performace difference looks slight. Now take a slow Mac. Say, one equipped with a first generation PowerPC processor. Turn on the virtual memory, restart, and then execute a demanding task. Now turn the VM off, restart, and execute the task again. You will notice a difference for sure. If you do benchmark tests, the result will speak for itself.

From personal experience and from other people people's testimonials, I know for sure that nothing beats real RAM for performance. Sure, it is more expensive than using Virtual Memory or RAM Doubler, but the performance and stability issues make it worth the extra money. That must be why I have 128 Megs installed here :-)

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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