There's hope for memory yet


Do you remember the old vaudeville joke (is there a new vaudeville joke?) that goes like this: First Comic: "I've been having trouble with my memory lately." Second Comic: "How long have you been having that trouble?" First: "What trouble is that?"

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that vaudeville died, but the memory problems that we all have in our computers haven't. Now there's very good news in the computer memory business.

For years I've been telling you in my lectures to expect to pay anywhere from $35 to $50 per megabyte of RAM (Random Access Memory).

The price often varied depending upon which Japanese factory had burned and the whims of chip marketers. Over the last several years, however, several chip makers have built factories in this country to make memory chips which only used to be imported.

Suddenly, in the last six months chip prices have begun to plummet.

If you're buying a new computer that's good news, but if you're trying to resurrect an old 486 machine to be able to run Windows 95, the news is astonishing! If your computer currently has less than 16 megabytes of RAM you're ready for a memory implant.

Used to be that memory came in only one variety, a small chip with about a gazillion pins that you had to fit perfectly into a tiny socket.

Sophisticated chips

Modern memory chips are more sophisticated and are called SIMMs (Single Inline Memory Modules). They still have lots of pins -- 32 or 70 -- and run at different speeds of usually 60, 70 or 80 nanoseconds.

To add SIMM memory, you only need remember that you should add memory that is the same speed in nanoseconds as the memory that's already in your machine, then decide how much you want.

Memory chips generally come in 1, 4, 8, 16 or 32 megabyte sizes. Eight and 16 megabytes are the most popular and cheapest.

Dan, our trusty technical support director, was shopping for RAM recently and found local stores selling 8 megabytes for around $110, 16 megabytes for less than $200, and 32 megabytes for around $1300.

That's right -- $1300! The reason is 32 megabyte chips are not yet in mass production, so they're not the same bargain as the rest of the crop.

(Flash! Just before this column went to press, I learned that most major chip manufacturers are cutting their memory chip production by 10 percent to alleviate an "oversupply" of memory chips in the market. Don't say I didn't warn you!)

Memory chips can cost a lot less by mail order, but pay by credit card, because there are a lot of scam artists selling bad chips.

Buying memory

So, how much memory should you buy?

Simply: All that you can afford up to and including 32 megabytes (two sixteen megabyte chips, of course).

Why? Because these chip prices won't stay this low for very long. Profit margins at these prices are squeezing manufacturers' bottom lines, and pretty soon some will drop out of the business leaving only a few who will immediately raise prices on their chips.

Now you chip gurus, don't send me e-mail telling me that even Windows 95 only requires 16 megabytes of RAM.

That's true. But there is a significant difference in functionality between 16 and 32 megabytes, and a hundred bucks is better spent on this upgrade than anything else that you can do to update your 486 or 586 machine.

If you've got a 386 or even 286 machine, ignore this article and sell your computer or donate it to a local law school.