Like the corners of my mind

Earlier this year, I bought a Dell XPS1210 laptop. Generally speaking, it’s been well-behaved, but in late-June, it developed a problem with the memory. I had always thought that when a computer has memory problems, it is simply unable to use the faulty part. However, this isn’t always true. It turns out that computer memory problems can actually cause mistakes. For example, the statistical package that I use began arbitrarily recoding certain variables. A little disturbing, to say the least. I felt like a writer who suddenly learns that his child has been randomly changing words in his manuscript.

Anyway, after a few false starts with Dell tech support in Australia and then in the US, I’ve now replaced the bodgy memory. A week later, I decided to go the whole hog and get 4 gig of memory.* My computer is now gleefully zippy, even when it comes to running regressions on million-observation datasets. In fact, I feel rather silly for not having maxed-out the memory from the outset.

* Reading this note from Microsoft, it may be that the 4th gig isn’t doing me much good.

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2 Responses to Like the corners of my mind

  1. Kevin Cox says:

    The 4gigabytes has reached another magic number in computing of 2 to the power of 32 or 4294967296. This means that the directly addressable memory of 32 bits is this number and when you go beyond it you have to fiddle with things and the insides become more complicated. There was a big change when 2^16 or 65536 of directly addressable memory was reached. For many years most computers were limited to 65K of addressable memory.
    As the next big change is 2 to the power of 64 we can expect the memory address space technologies to remain stable for awhile. This is about 184 followed by 17 zeroes.

  2. Re the ‘RAM works perfectly or not at all’ assumption: yeah, I learnt that the hard way too, back when I was doing network admin. Rotated every component in a machine because I couldn’t work out what was causing these odd glitches. Re-installed the drivers. Re-installed the whole OS. After maybe three or four hours’ worth of work I finally thought to swap the RAM. Solved it immediately. Now I check RAM compatibility first.

    It was a Dell box too.

    Apparently RAM incompatibility used to be fairly rare, but it’s become more common in recent years as manufacturers (esp Dell) use different set-ups. The sysadmin who told me this said they did it to force people to buy Dell proprietary RAM. Don’t know enough myself to know if his cynicism was warranted.


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