I've a 10+ year old XP PC which surprisingly still works however one of the 256MB RAM finally died. Now I am left with just 256MB. As expected the PC became slower however when I tried to increase the page file to min 4GB max 4GB it become quite fast again to an acceptable level. My question now are:

  1. Will it help if I buy more RAM since the current performance is already acceptable, will it be even faster?

  2. Will just having 256MB RAM but 4GB page file have some implications (maybe the HDD is being pounded or something)?

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    From experience XP works alright with 256mb ram, barely. Most of my systems of that era had hardware failures by this point of time though. Old ram is expensive, unless you manage to find a trustworthy source of second hand stuff. I'd probably suggest keeping the old girl running as she is as long as possible. If upgrades are needed, the hard drive may be a better bet (maybe with a sata -> pata converter, or even a laptop pata ssd with a adaptor to the desktop pin out) – Journeyman Geek Jan 24 '13 at 10:42
  • @JourneymanGeek I wouldn't waste money buying new ram; but DDR1 is really cheap on ebay. If you're concerned about getting dud parts, buy from a computer salvage company with good reviews instead of some random person trying to part out his personal relic. Don't forget to run memtest86 overnight once you install the ram. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Jan 24 '13 at 13:46
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    Seriously, RAM is dirt cheap and is the easiest investment to make to make a computer faster if you have less than 2 gigs of it. – orlp Jan 24 '13 at 15:02
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    I have some old RAM that I'm getting rid of. Tell me what kind it uses, and if I have some and you're in the USA, I'll mail it to you. – Moshe Katz Jan 28 '13 at 21:17
  • @MosheKatz thank you that is very kind however I'm not in the US. Thanks :-) – IMB Jan 30 '13 at 3:10

Accessing primary memory (RAM) normally takes in the order of a nanosecond (10-9 s) while accessing secondary memory (hard drive) takes in the order of a millisecond (10-3 s), making RAM access faster by a factor of 1,000,000 times. So to the extent that RAM is actually full and files are getting written to your hard drive's page file, those operations take 1,000,000 times longer. One would need to check the Task Manager to see what is going on and if RAM is actually full.

Your decision will depend on what you subjectively deem to be acceptable for the task you are using the computer for. You are certainly not using it for office work?

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  • Don't forget that paged memory cannot actually be modified. It first has to be loaded into ram then it can be accessed like normal. This means that other data must first be paged to disk if there isn't enough physical ram remaining. – NtscCobalt Jan 24 '13 at 16:21
  • I think you are misreading my post. There is nothing in there that talks about modifying paged memory directly, and the fact that data from RAM is written to the page file to make space before the requested paged data gets read to RAM is not relevant when we are talking about orders of magnitude. – mxl_ Jan 24 '13 at 20:41
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    Sorry I only intended to add the detail that once paging occurs you aren't solely dealing with the time to write data to disk. – NtscCobalt Jan 24 '13 at 21:11

The only way your machine could have gotten faster is by the paging file getting relocated to a less fragmented part of the disk when you changed its size. A common problem in general on old XP machines. Get a further possible improvement by using a defrag utility first, then run the SysInternals' PageDefrag tool.

It matters a great deal since you'll be using the paging file a lot more frequently with this little RAM. A fragmented paging file causes a lot more disk head seeks and that's slow.

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With a PC that old, it's likely that the rest of it will die soon too. If it's even possible to find RAM for a machine 10 years old, you'd probably be far better off buying a cheap desktop to replace it.

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More RAM is always better... But why invest in more memory if you feel the performance is accetable? You might actually have an issue finding memory for your machine at a reasonable price. You would be better off investing in a new machine.

Having a 4 GB page file will not cause extra wear and tear, however, that does seem excessive for 256 MB of RAM. You can most likely reduce it to 1 GB and be just fine.

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    or let windows set the pagefile automatically/dynamically, which is the smart choice. – Journeyman Geek Jan 24 '13 at 7:58
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    @Keltari: Given your question in Meta SU, one would think you would come up with better answers then this. "You can most likely reduce it to 1 GB and be just fine." "Most likely"? Really? According to which source? – TFM Jan 24 '13 at 8:59
  • according to common sense. If he was actually using a 4 GB page file, his machine would be crawling. – Keltari Jan 24 '13 at 9:57

RAM is cheep right now. but if you are in a pinch use the hard drive. It isn't going to hurt anything. Granted it isn't as fast as RAM but you shouldn't notice the difference.

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    Hello @swtracey7, welcome to SU. Please note in the comments below that RAM for a 10 year old PC is unlikely to be cheap. Also, suggesting the performance of additional ram versus increased page file is equivalent is inaccurate. – Paul Feb 24 '13 at 12:00

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