Ask Mr. Modem: RAM, hard drive both have starring roles

Posted Tuesday, May. 20, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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Which is more important: A lot of RAM memory or a lot of hard-drive space? Thanks for your expertise, Mr. M.

RAM (Random Access Memory) and hard-drive space are frequently confused. When you launch or open a software program, it loads from the hard drive (long-term storage) into RAM (short-term storage). When you close the program, it is purged from RAM.

Think of the relationship between RAM and your hard drive as you would the surface of your desk and the drawers within the desk. Items in the drawers represent items on your hard drive. If you want to use your stapler, you remove it from the drawer and place it on the surface of the desk. A similar thing happens when you open a program in that it effectively “moves” from the hard drive into memory, for faster access.

If you have a lot of items to staple, you leave the stapler on the desktop for ease and speed of access. In the same way, programs you are using, such as your word processing program when composing a letter, remains in RAM as long as you are using it. When you close the word processing program, it is removed from RAM.

As far as which is more important, RAM or hard-drive space, the answer really depends what your objective is. In its simplest form, if your objective is increased performance for your current computer, adding additional RAM is generally the best choice. If the goal is more data storage, a larger hard drive or an additional drive in the form of an external or flash drive would be a good decision.

In a previous column you said Windows 8 is best suited for laptop or tablet systems that have an integrated touchscreen. What is an integrated touchscreen?

Integrated, within this context, is the opposite of external. If you look at an iPad or other tablet or smartphone, you will see that the screen is integrated (part of) the device itself. Windows 8 works best on a system that can take advantage of physical interaction with the screen through various hand and finger gestures. (Be nice!) Windows 8 can certainly be used on a system with a traditional external monitor and mouse, but doing so doesn’t take advantage of one of the most revolutionary aspects of Windows 8.

This is probably the dumbest question you ever answered, but what does it mean when an item is not configured?

There are never any dumb questions here in Mr. Modemvillle. To configure an item means to customize, personalize or get it ready for use. The specific definition depends on the item being discussed. For example, if you install an email program, what you download isn’t automatically set up to work with your mail service provider. You have to go into the program’s settings and enter information that will instruct the program where to look for your mail and how to retrieve it. Once the software is configured in that manner, you can then use it to send and receive email.

Mr. Modem publishes “Ask Mr. Modem!” each week, featuring PC tips, tricks and plain-English answers to your questions by email. For more information, visit

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