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I have an old PC with 512MB Ram(DDR2), Intel Pentium 4 Processor 3GHz, running Windows XP. (See my System Info).

The PC is acting slow and laggy from last few weeks, maybe because of new programs I installed.

As far as I know, I can't upgrade the current P4 processor without upgrading the motherboard. So, can upgrading only the RAM to 1GB help improve speed?

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Yes, increasing ram should help. Long ago I maxed out my old 3.2 GHz P4 based system with 4 GB of DDR2 RAM (although only 3 GB is used by XP) and it runs very well. But even just going from 512 MB to 1 GB should be fairly noticeable. Another very worth-while upgrades I put in was a modern PCIe x16 ATI graphic card. If system is very slow try defragmenting the hard disk. You also should really get Service Pack 3 from Microsoft. –  martineau Dec 22 '12 at 13:50
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Well, P4 is old. And upgrading the ram is a good idea though I suspect that you will even find that type of ram (what do you use? DDR1?)

If you are using graphics intensive programs, maybe its high time to upgrade the processor, motherboard and ram. If you are using only office related products and a few dev tools, I suggest u shift to linux. They are much lighter on the system.

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In general, maximizing the RAM is a good option for old PCs.

Less general: having 512 MB of RAM is the absolute minimum these days. Using Windows XP, firefox and OpenOffice is most of the time enough to use all available RAM.

How to find out if you need more RAM

Open up the Task Manager (CTRL+ALT+DEL), and check the RAM usage. If there is not much free RAM left already, you really need to upgrade RAM. If this is not the case, start a couple of programs you might want to use (at the same time). If you still have a lot of free RAM left, then you don't need more RAM.

If you say your machine starts lagging, then you quite probably need more RAM.

Rationale

RAM only makes your computer faster if it is used. If your system uses 2 GB of RAM at maximum, 4 GB will not make it any faster.

However, if you have 512 MB of RAM and your programs would need 1 GB, then you start swapping/paging. That is: part of the Memory is written and read from hard disk. As the hard disk is a lot slower excessive swapping/paging can bring the whole machine to a crawl.

So if you are out of RAM often, then more RAM is the first thing you should upgrade on your machine (or try using programs that use less RAM).

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