computers: one billion bytes of RAM isn’t enough

I’m typing this on a Falcon Northwest top-of-the-line desktop computer. It’s from 2004. The Athlon 3000 dual core CPU can keep up with most of my needs, the 100GB disk has enough space, the audio is fine, the video can display a large desktop.  Latest 3D in the browser doesn’t work, but day-to-day surfing and video playback is fine.

The killer problem is its memory. 1 GB of RAM ( 8,000 times the RAM of my Macintosh 128kB!) is no longer enough to surf the web. Far from setting us free from the tyranny of updating our computers, browsing has become the most demanding application we run, unless you’re a 3D video editor.

  • I’ve abandoned Firefox and Thunderbird to revert to the integrated Mozilla suite SeaMonkey (the continuation of the original Netscape Navigator suite) so that I only have one monster program using up all my RAM.
  • I’ve limited the amount of memory that any program can consume (ulimit -v 1360000) to try to make Firefox/SeaMonkey crash faster when it runs out of memory.
  • I’ve disabled some of the KDE desktop services such as its desktop semantic search and central contacts/e-mail manager (thereby making the desktop even more of an irrelevant “programs strip at the bottom below the browser (and terminal window) where I do all my real work ”

Nothing helps.  If I open more than about 7 tabs, or if one of them is “aggressive”, I wait for my computer to lock up.

It should be easy to solve this problem, just buy three 1GB sticks of PC3200 memory. But 7-year old memory is quite expensive, about $50 a slot.  Best Buy has a deal on memory I’ve never heard to get 2GB for $60.  So as usual, buying a top-of-the-line computer for a lot of money doesn’t avoid obsolescence, it just postpones it.  A quality computer will work for years, but after a few years it’ll be off the pace and upgrading it will be expensive. It’s better to buy a cheaper computer and get a new one every three years, or sooner if it breaks.

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