Windows XP will run on 512 MB of RAM. Indeed, I ran it for 4 or 5 years this way. However, if you have a number of applications open at the same time, for example Firefox, MS Word and an image processing suite, you may notice a lot of hard disk activity as you run the applications and save data. This is because Windows stores data in memory, or RAM, and when it runs out of that it will store or cache the remainder that it needs to the hard disk. At the moment I see that on my Windows XP system, Firefox 3 alone is using about 350MB of memory, so on a system with only 512 MB of memory, the browser alone could take a significant chunk of RAM. If the hard disk needs to be used as a data cache, you will see the LED on the front of the hard drive continuously flashing as the data is written to disk or accessed from it and everything will be held up until that’s done. The other disadvantage of caching is that this constant disk activity is probably shortening the life of the hard drive, which is a mechanical device so it doesn’t last for ever.
My point here is that it would be worth getting another stick of RAM to boost memory to 1GB or even 1.5GB to avoid disk caching and hopefully prolong the life of your hard disk. I’ve certainly noticed a big difference in hard drive activity, or lack of it, since I boosted RAM to 1.5GB. And RAM doesn’t cost too much these days and is relatively easy to fit yourself.
Use the Crucial System Scanner to check what type of memory you need and how much you can fit. Or if you know the brand and model of your PC go to New Egg’s Memory Configurator. To install RAM, follow this installation guide.
Photo credit: cheetleys