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How much RAM do You Need?

RAM, memory, storage... so many words for the same thing! The real questions are just how much of the stuff do you need in your PDA, why do you see seemingly similar PDAs with vastly different amounts of memory, and is more really better?

Pocket PCs

With the exception of Windows Mobile/Pocket PC PDAs, the amount of RAM quoted on the box and in the specs refers to the amount of storage memory available for any programs and data you choose to install. Pocket PC devices actually share RAM between storage and operating memory, which means some of the RAM is dedicated to the brain power required to run programs, while the rest is allocated as a place where you can store all your data and programs. Think of it as the RAM in your computer combined with the hard drive. Pocket PC can actually dynamically manage the balance for you, while older WinCE devices usually set the default as a 50-50 balance that you can adjust in a control panel. This is similar to the idea of virtual memory in a desktop computer.

Does this mean you have to buy the Pocket PC that has the most memory? Nope. You can always choose to install programs and files to your storage card. These include CompactFlash cards and SD cards. See our storage card article for more info on these cards. But you should leave at least 16 megs of internal memory (RAM) free because the Pocket PC will use this to run programs in the same way your computer uses RAM/memory. Think of the storage card as an additional hard drive.

Most Pocket PCs come with a minimum of 32 megs of RAM and some have 64 or even 128. 32 megs is fine if you're going to use your Pocket PC for its standard functions such as managing contacts, calendar, reminders and working with a Word and Excel documents. If you intend to install a good deal of additional software, you may want a 64 meg model if you can afford it. If you're a real power user who wants to install lots of apps, go for a 128 meg model if possible. Programs run fastest from internal memory, and you'll have access to them even if you swap out storage cards.

If you plan on using a CF modem or network card, then you'll have to remove your CF storage card, so remember, you won't have access to those programs installed on a CF card. If you buy a Pocket PC that has both a CF card slot and an SD slot, you can store programs on your SD card and use the CF slot for that modem or network card.

Palm vs. Pocket PC Memory Specs

Why do Pocket PCs have so much more memory than Palm OS computers? Does this make them better? The answer is not better, just different. Because Pocket PC programs share storage and operating memory in RAM, they need more. Pocket PC programs tend to require more memory to run (ah, the legacy of the bloated Windows OS). Pocket PC devices support such things as multimedia in the form of sound recording, MP3 players and files, and image viewing and editing. These things require a decent amount of memory to run, and the file size of these things is large compared to a contact or agenda item. We all know how you can easily fill up your desktop computer's hard drive with MP3 files and pretty images! These are some good reasons why WinCE PDAs usually come with 32 or 64 megs of RAM (and faster processors too). Pocket PC PDAs come with Pocket Internet Explorer, and most HPC (keyboarded) devices have a built-in modem. Web pages left in your cache also take up a good deal of space. Another reason for memory.

Palm OS PDAs

Palm OS computers run a highly specialized and optimized operating system: running programs require little memory and files are in the form of text and Palm OS database records, which are smaller than images files and Windows library files. They just don't take much space. Think of your Palm: lots of text on the screen, very little in the way of graphical images and all sounds are frugal midi files. If you're using the Palm straight out of the box for such things as contacts, calendar and notes, you won't need more than the 8 megs of RAM found on many Palm models, in fact you could probably make do with less. If you're a shareware and commercial software user, and want to download and install all those nifty Palm programs available on the Net, you'll probably be happy with 8 megs. 16 megs will accommodate a good deal of 3rd party software. Unless you're an AvantGo off-line web browser user, or have a Sony Clié with MP3 playback capabilities. If you're into MP3's on your Clié, get one or more Memory Sticks!

Palm OS PDAs can be expanded via SD cards (for newer Palm branded PDAs), MemorySticks (Sony branded PDAs) and Springboard module (for Handspring Visor PDAs). You can install programs and files onto these cards. However, not all programs are designed to run off of expansion cards because this technology is a recent addition. About 1/3 to 1/2 of the shareware programs available today will run off of an expansion card.

But which PDA takes what? Use this table as a guideline.

PalmOne (Palm V and newer): SD cards (preferred) and MMC cards. Includes Treo 600 and 650.
Handspring Visor: Springboard Modules
Sony CLIÉ: Memory Stick
Pocket PC and Handheld PC: CompactFlash (CF) on some, SD cards on all. PC Card memory and hard drives for those with PC Card sleeves (iPAQ 3000 and 5000 models only), IBM MicroDrive for those with a type II CF slot. Note: The HP Jornada 540, 560 and 720 series have type I CF slots, not type II.
Sharp Zaurus CF type II and SD cards.




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