Optimization – Role of Memory (RAM) and Hard Drive made simple


David Akinsanya

Many of us are familiar with hard drives and memories in a computer and some people confuse one with the other. I get quite a number of questions about this when people want to make their computers faster. I’ll do my best to simplify this as best as possible. In this writeup, we will address three main factors tat cause a computer to appear slow and three optimization tasks end users can adopt to address the issues.

Let us view the computer as an office space with a desk and storage cabinet operated by a clerk. The desk is our RAM (Random Access Memory) and the storage cabinet is the HDD (Hard Disk Drive) and the clerk is the CPU (Central Processing Unit). There are different types of computer memory and computer hard drives but we will leave the variations out to keep things simple.

When we create a new document file, this equals putting a blank peace of paper on our desk. When we save the file, we are literally storing te file in the cabinet. Every file that is open is typically spread on our desk. The size of te desk (memory) determines how many files we can spead on the desk. Likewise, the size of our file cabinet determines how many documnets we can store in it. The speed of the clerk determines how fast they can create, modify or move files.

If we have 10 documents we are working on (eg, combination of web pages, excel file, PDF, word file, picture, Email, Accounting software etc), all these will be spread on the desk until no space exist to add a new file. To open an additional file, the clerk will temporarily remove a file from the desk to create space for the new one being opened. It will then place the removed file (while it’s still open) in a temporary space in the cabinet. This temporary space is referred to as “The Cache”

It is pertinent to note that the clerk is a heavy multitasking individual that keeps every open file (active file) monitored or updated continuosly which means it will constantly be moving files between the desk and the cabinet to be able to keep up. This back and forth movement makes the clerk appear slow.

When we increase or optimize the size of the desk (memory), this reduces the back and forth movement and the clerk seems to be running faster, assuming we only still have the 10 files open. Whenever the size of the open files exceed the surface area of the desk, the clerk will resume its back and forth wasteful movement.

Due to the back and forth movement, the clerk does not put the files back in the same location every time. Let’s imagine a document A has 100 pages and we are working on page 10 and 50. The pages end up not being in the right order so the, for example, in a 4-tray cabinet, we may have page 1 on the top tray, page 2 on tray 4, and page 3 on tray 2. To flip pages chronologically, the clerk would dash to tray 1, then to tray 4 and then to tray 2. In such states, the file cabinet is deemed to be fragmented because it has contents of what is supposed to be a contiguous document all scattered all over the place.

Again, the back and forth movement causes the clerk to appear slow. To correct this, we need to perform another optimization task, which includes defragmenting the cabinet.

The more the files grow, the smaller the space on the storage and this can impact the clerk when there is little room to move files around, meaning files will now be moved in smaller chunks. The clerk also throws all it’s trash in a can it keeps inside the cabinet which remain there until emptied out. Additionally, the clerk takes snapshots of its files for troubleshooting or recovery purposes and these snapshots are also stored in the cabinet. Another optimization task of cleaning out the garbage and unwanted history helps increase available storage space on the computer.

So far, we have identified three issues (small desk, cluttered cabinet, and clogged cabinet) and the associated optimization tasks that addresses them (expand desk, rearrange files, and empty trash cans in additon to discarding unwanted logs, respectively). From the foregoing, we can deduce that the important basic underlying factors that determine speed or optimal operation of a computer includes the speed of the processor, size or type of memory, and size or type of hard drive.

Thank you

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