Too Much Memory

November 2, 2009

I’ve been having problems with my desktop PC on and off for a while; it kept running painfully slowly and occasionally freezing up altogether. To be fair it is now fairly venerable,  an AMD Athlon 2600+ with 500M of RAM – a museum piece these days. We’ve had it for over five years and a lot of software has passed under the bridge in that time, as well as the suppliers, Carrera, having gone bust a while back.

I’d scanned it for viruses, adware, spyware, all that nonsense, and also ran a full disk check, but all that did me no good. I suspected a shortage of RAM, and a few months ago I replaced the original two 256M DIMMs with three 500G ones of the good stuff from Crucial. At first it looked pretty good and started up really fast, with the exception of a strange pause for  several seconds during which the Windows XP progress bar would stop before restarting and bringing up the login screen. However, shortly after that, strange and seemingly unprovoked reboots started to happen. Windows reported severe errors on recovery, but in unspecified device drivers. I used msconfig to turn off all but Windows services: that didn’t help. I removed lots of programs we no longer use – no good. I tried a different power supply unit – no dice. I disconnected the old internal Zip drive as I know they can be prone to failure – nope.

Then today I removed one of the three memory DIMMs, taking the total RAM down to just under 1G and leaving the supposedly paired slots 2 and 3 populated. Lo! and behold the mysterious pause during boot has gone away, and the machine has not hung up since (touch wood). I’ve re-enabled all the normal startup services and stuff and still so far so good.

Perhaps there is such a thing as too much RAM as well as too little.

I’ve started to look around for a new machine anyway, now that Windows 7 has come out, but as ever the choice is somewhat bewildering, so I’m glad that the current machine seems to have got a stay of execution to allow me a bit longer to procrastinate over the marketplace.


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