Q: I understand that the more system memory I have, the better my computer will perform. However, I’ve already loaded as much system memory as my computer can hold. Is there any way to add more?
A: Yes, once you run out of slots in your computer, you can configure one of those ubiquitous USB flash memory sticks to function as extra random access memory (RAM). The technique works about the same in Windows XP and Vista. Microsoft created a function in Vista, called ReadyBoost, that not only makes the configuration easier, but adds a technique for using the extra memory more efficiently.
One caveat: Be sure that your computer has USB 2.0 slots, and that the memory stick is USB 2.0 compatible. Also, a computer can only use one designated USB device for additional RAM, and that drive can no longer be used to store or transfer data. But you can use other USB sticks in other USB slots in your computer for storing or transferring data.
How does extra RAM improve computer performance? Each time you trigger an application, a copy of the software that runs that app is called up from the hard drive and stored in system memory. If you later close the app, the software will usually remain in RAM as long as there is sufficient room and until you shut down the computer. Windows also partitions a part of the hard drive as virtual memory, which enhances RAM. If you trigger another app and RAM space is limited, the previous app’s software is erased to make room for the new one. So, computers with lots of RAM can hold lots of apps—ready to load nearly instantly because using system memory is faster than accessing hard disk storage. The addition of flash memory effectively enlarges virtual memory.
To recruit a memory stick to expand RAM in XP, insert one into an available USB slot. Then open the Control Panel and click on System, Advanced, and under Performance click on Settings, the Advanced tab and then, under Virtual memory, click on Change (see screenshot below).
That brings up the Virtual Memory screen (see screenshot below).
As you can see, the computer designated the memory stick as drive G. You now have a choice of setting a custom size for use of the flash memory. I do not recommend using Custom size. Instead I suggest you check System managed size and let the computer determine the most efficient use of the flash memory. Then click on Set and OK. You will need to reboot the computer for the change to take effect.
In Vista, the procedure is easier. Plug in the USB device, open Windows Explorer and right-click on the new flash memory drive. Then click on Properties, which opens the Removable Disk screen (see screenshot below) and click on ReadyBoost.
Then click on Use this device (see screenshot below). Notice at the bottom of the screen, because I used a 2 gigabyte flash memory drive, Windows recommends a setting for allocated space at 1880 megabytes for optimal performance. When you do the installation, I suggest you follow the Windows recommendation based on the size of your flash drive. After setting the size, click on OK under Space to reserve for system speed.