It's no secret that the way that memory has been handled
in personal computers has been a bit of a mess
ever since the first
IBM PCs were developed in 1981. And it's a mess that - in one way or another
- we all continue to suffer from today.
The way this problem developed was that back in the 1980s, the computer engineers
who developed the first desktop PCs didn't have any inkling about
just how wildly successful the personal computer revolution would
be or just how far and how fast PCs would evolve (in fact,
some people speculate that some of IBM's engineers thought PCs would be a
fad that wouldn't last more than a few years!)
So when it came to deciding how RAM (random access memory) would work, those
engineers arbitrarily assigned the first 640K of RAM for the use of
software and assigned the next 384K for the use of hardware. And at
the time - since most PCs only used 64K to 256K of RAM - this seemed more
But by the late 1980s software and hardware we both pushing these limits.
This in turn gave rise to infamous "640K Barrier" and led to the
development of lots of memory manager programs and other tricks designed
to get around this barrier in order to make more memory available. In fact
- for awhile - finding ways to get around the 640K barrier spawned an
This situation persisted until the development of 32-bit machines
and modern operating systems in the 1990s, which allowed all available
memory to be uniformly accessed in protected mode.
Nonetheless, effective use of memory is still largely a "hit or miss" affair.
And leaving memory management up to your operating system and/or your software
- which is the default position - can produce sub-optimal results.
Even modern operating systems are still not truly efficient in this
area and poorly programmed software can put a lock on portions of memory
(a "memory leak") which actually reduces the amount of RAM you have
available. In addition, many modern PCs run many programs in the background
that consume RAM without most users even being aware of it.
This can lead to anything from slow performance to system
lock-ups and crashes (particularly if you have many applications
open at once). And the solution to this problem is either to purchase
and install more RAM (which is usually the best thing to do if
you're running a newish PC and are having frequent lock-ups or crashes caused
by running out of memory) or to install a dedicated memory optimiser
to make best use of whatever RAM you currently have.
Since installing extra RAM is expensive and techy, though, many people prefer
to try a software solution first. So we've found 6 completely
free memory optimisers that can help keep your RAM clean and ensure that
you have the maximum available memory at your fingertips most of the
time (bearing in mind the caveats we list in our sidebar).
Here's what they care: