Can your hard drive become obsolete? You bet it can.
Is throwing it out your best option? Not necessarily.
In dealing with Windows memory and cache usage, your hard drive plays a vital role in how Windows manages memory space. This is not necessarily a good thing – letting Windows manage your memory, but for those of us who don’t want to mess with it, we can at least give Windows a helping hand. Speaking of memory, there are some different types of memory and their functions differ, as well. There are, of course, different memory technologies, but what interests us now are the plain basic types of memory that our computers use.
Random Access Memory (RAM) is the physical piece of memory that you install in your computer. It comes typically in 256 Mb (megabyte) increments, such as 256Mb, 512Mb, and 1Gb, for example. Obviously, the more memory
you have installed, the better. Today, 512Mb is standard for most computers. Along with RAM, there is also something called virtual memory, a Windows-created portion of your hard drive space devoted to act in unison with your computer’s physical memory. Your operating system creates and adjusts the virtual memory. It is constantly changing and always in use. You may notice your hard drive is busy when your computer is not. This is typically Windows managing its virtual memory. Windows may be decreasing, purging, refreshing and resizing the virtual memory as it sees fit.
Windows creates virtual memory in direct proportion to your actual RAM. The default is 1.5 times your actual RAM. With 1Gb of memory on a computer, there is 1.5Gb of virtual memory. Windows also uses a variable virtual memory size, so it has a minimum (1.5 times RAM), and a maximum (3 times RAM) default value.
Why is this important? Virtual memory can create bottlenecks in your system. Physical RAM
is much faster than virtual RAM because virtual RAM is really data being accessed by your hard drive. A hard drive is thousands of times slower than your physical RAM memory. Hard drive access times are measured in milliseconds, and memory’s access in nano seconds. This is at least 1,000 times slower.
The point of the bottleneck is the hard drive, because it is slower and working much harder to deliver the data to the operating system and the CPU.
To really combat this, there are a number of options to help increase the performance of your computer. The most important option is to manage your virtual memory properly. This is where that old hard drive can be of great use.
If you right-click on My Computer, left-click properties; then the Advanced tab; click the Settings button, and Advanced tab, finally under Virtual memory, click Change. Examine the paging file size, and note that it can be manually adjusted, and even moved and split between two drives. That is the key.
That old hard drive, preferable of about 5 Gb and upwards can be used again. A very good practice is to organize your operating system by content. Your actual Windows Installation should be located on a separate hard drive, and your data on another.