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10/96 Cover Story: HOT STUFF!

Boost Your Memory-Now!

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If you're looking to energize the performance of your 486 or Pentium PC, we've got some great news for you. In recent months, prices for DRAM (dynamic RAM) have been in a free fall, making this an ideal time to upgrade your PC's memory. But don't procrastinate: There's a good chance DRAM prices will actually rise again in the coming year.

Plunging DRAM prices can be traced to Microsoft's introduction of Windows 95 last year. At the time, most PCs were shipping with 8MB of RAM or less. But since Win95 and its native applications typically perform best with at least 16MB of RAM, chip makers cranked up production in anticipation of growing memory demand. The result: Fierce competition has caused a 50 to 80 percent drop in DRAM prices over the past year.

In some cases, the decline is even greater. For instance, it cost end users about $1,060 to buy 32MB of RAM in a PC last winter. Today, that price is closer to $280. In other words, DRAM can now be had for about $9 per MB. Some DRAM manufacturers have even been accused of "dumping" DRAM (selling it for less than cost) to gain market share and reduce inventories.

If you're in the market for DRAM, try to buy it in 16MB increments. There are two reasons to heed this advice. First, the bulk of manufactured memory now comes in 16MB quantities because 4MB upgrades don't generate enough revenue. Also, Microsoft is pushing PC makers to deliver PCs with 16MB, 32MB or 64MB of RAM. In other words, you'll still be behind the curve if you jump from 4MB to 12MB of RAM.

When buying memory, look for the new EDO (Extended Data Out) DRAM rather than older fast-page-mode DRAM. Remember, however, that EDO may not work with older, non-Pentium machines, so check the manual first. Also, make sure that the DRAM's nanosecond specification is compatible with your system. Most DRAM conforms to a 60ns spec, but some memory chips use a 70ns spec. Check to see which is compatible with your PC, and buy accordingly.

Delaying a DRAM upgrade may not be wise. The bulk of PCs manufactured next year are expected to include 32MB or 64MB of RAM, which could reduce memory inventories and slightly raise prices, says Yong Yao, a senior analyst with Microprocessor Report, a newsletter in Mountain View, Calif.

Here's another tip. Invest in SRAM (static RAM) cache, which costs a mere $15 per 256KB-less than half last year's price. If your PC lacks SRAM, a 256KB upgrade can boost performance by 10 to 20 percent. "SRAM is a nice luxury if you can afford it," says Yao. "But if you already have 256KB of SRAM, there's no need to upgrade since you'll see little performance improvement." -Joseph C. Panettieri

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