So it’s time to buy a new computer, is it? Well, my name is Shad and I teach software development at Grand Canyon University. And so I help my students purchase new machines when the old one just doesn’t seem to be doing enough for them.
Probably the first and most important question for my students is this: How much RAM are you going to purchase for your computer? Now, this is an important factor because it determines sometimes the academic success or failure of my students. If their computer is so slow that they can’t get their projects done, they struggle with their grades. So since it’s such a critical part, let’s understand a little bit about why you should spend a little bit of extra money on this one feature alone.
Because let’s talk about the way that your computer hard drive has two roles to play. First of all, the role that I just mentioned, job one, is for it to store the programs and the data on your computer. So this is the documents folder. This is the operating system. This is the total maybe two or four terabytes of space that is taking up the storage unit on your computer.
But just as important is the RAM overflow. It’s a job that is called your swap file. So let’s take a look at my computer and I’m going to bring up the performance monitor or the in the Macintosh, it’s called the activity monitor. You can see that I have 32 gigabytes of RAM. This is an important feature because, as you can see, I’ve used 24 of those gigabytes just by launching all the programs that are on my desktop. So I have a database server, I have Visual Studio, I have PowerPoint, I have Word, I have a video editing software, I have Chrome, and it takes a bunch of tabs to keep everything going. And so I have this unlimited appetite to keep launching programs and never close them.
And so even though I might have a 32 gigabyte machine, I was able to use 24 of those gigabytes. Now, if you purchase one of these less expensive models, you’re probably going to have only 8 gigabytes. And so my students encounter this problem when they get into my software development classes because Visual Studio really takes most of that.
So now comes into the role of the hard drive along with your RAM. So let’s say you’ve filled up all of your RAM, you’ve launched a dozen programs, Chrome has 40 tabs open, and then you notice that your computer comes to a screeching halt, it barely functions, and the reason why is because the operating system has to take that storage for RAM and put it somewhere, and so it starts to swap out the memory into the hard drive space.
So let’s say you have a document in Word and you haven’t looked at it for a while, Windows or the Mac OS, either one of them will recognize that this is a low priority program and it will switch it from the memory into a swap file on the hard drive. Now, the speed of a drive is literally like 1% or maybe less than the speed of your RAM. And so when you start to move things from RAM to the hard drive, the performance really takes a hit.
So you really just have two options. One is you can start closing programs, and as you can see on my activity monitor, I can close Word, I can close the database server, and other programs, and it starts to reclaim some of that space. So if you can get away with it, you can close programs and your computer will speed back up again.
So if you’re limited to a certain amount of RAM, like let’s say 8 gigabytes, then you’ll never be able to kill enough programs to make it work, right? And so you’re eventually going to have to buy a new laptop. And so that’s why you come up to this price tag and you say, is it really worth that extra $200? Is RAM really worth the upgrade cost?
So if you’re a standard user that is, you know, using the internet, maybe using Word documents, and printing a few things, you probably never encounter this running out of memory phenomenon. However, if you’re working with software development like my students, you’re quickly going to encounter this. Android Studio will take all the RAM you have, Visual Studio will do the same, compiling software, and those IDEs, those software development tools, just take a lot of memory.
Other people that will experience this are maybe the artists. So the people over in the College of Fine Arts are using Adobe Suite, which means Photoshop and Illustrator, and maybe some other editing tools for videos. Those tools are also going to suck up all the RAM, and their computer is going to slow way down.
So if you run out of RAM, the computer has no choice but to start using the hard drive, which will be very, very slow. So a second option that many people configure when they purchase a laptop is to ask, well, how much storage do I need? Do I really need a one terabyte or a four terabyte hard drive? And this really is also depending on what kind of things you’re planning on storing.
If you’re creating videos and saving them, you’re going to quickly fill up your hard drive. However, I don’t really recommend that you buy the biggest hard drive, especially from a company like Apple. Look at the price tag that they charge. An alternative that I recommend is to purchase maybe one of these. This is a small device but has two terabytes of storage on it, and for less than a hundred dollars, I think maybe $80 or so, you can get the equivalent amount of storage that’s almost as fast and certainly good enough for most uses.
As a matter of fact, I made another video to ask the question: Is this fast enough for you to run a virtual machine? So a virtual machine lets you run Windows on a Mac or Linux on Windows. It’s one of those devices that takes a lot of resources, and you’ll be surprised at how well this device works when it comes to storing virtual machines. So I’ll put that link here so you can see the performance here. And if you want to become a software developer, make sure that you follow my channel, and I’ll teach you how to program and how to get a new career in software development.