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Improve your memory (yours and your computer’s) (Vol #14)

Inside: How to watch video tutorials, memory usage, Dashboard widgets

Much of this newsletter is about memory. Since it’s been a few weeks since you heard from me, you might think that I’m the one with memory problems. I won’t confirm or deny my “issues” 🙂 but I will talk about how to monitor your Mac’s memory and how to better remember what you learn in video tutorials like on Mac Help For Mom.

A video about watching videos

Sometimes I assume too much. A couple days ago I realized that my Mom wasn’t using Mac Help For Mom videos the way I thought she would. Yes, she was watching them, but she wasn’t following along how I assumed. So I made this video for her (and you).

How to follow along with video tutorials

Please report back if this method works for you.

Check your levels

Your Mac is really good at doing more than one thing at a time. But ask it to keep track of more activities than can be stored in its memory at one time and you’ll find its speed quickly degrades. Sometimes you may even see the dreaded spinning beach ball cursor. beach ball cursor There are simple ways to monitor your Mac’s memory and watching just two numbers can help you prevent or resolve most memory problems on your Mac. Read this article to find out how.

How to check memory usage on your Mac

Customize your Dashboard (but no bobbleheads please)

After installing the iStat Pro Dashboard widget in that memory usage video, I realized that not everyone knows about the Dashboard. It’s one of those semi-hidden features of the Mac that you might not realize is there unless someone else shows you first. So, if you haven’t tricked out your Dashboard, here is everything you should need to know…

What is the Dashboard and what are its widgets?

Word of the Week

The word is “memory”.

The most important thing to remember about your computer’s “memory” is that it is different from its “storage”. Memory and storage are a computer’s two main components for storing information, but they serve different purposes.

Storage is cheaper, slower, but most importantly, non-volatile. That’s geek speak for “remembers its information even when the power is off”. Storage is like your brain’s long-term memory. It holds all the applications, documents, music, photos, videos, etc. that you’ve probably spent money and time accumulating.

Memory is costlier, faster, and volatile (gets erased when the power is turned off). Why bother with something that costs more and can’t even remember things without steady electricity? Because it’s much faster than storage. When you launch an application, the system copies it from storage to memory so the CPU can run it and manipulate its data (e.g., play a song or video, display a document).

This difference in price is why you’ll see computers with much more storage capacity than memory capacity. For instance the cheapest iMac on the Apple site now has 500GB of storage (a GB is a billion units of information) and 4GB of memory.

So why do you need to know all this? Because when you are computer shopping you’ll need to choose from various options for both storage and memory. Your storage needs to be large enough for all your “memories” (applications, documents, music, video, photos), leaving enough space left over for room to grow. Your computer’s memory needs to be large enough for all the applications that you might run simultaneously. Too small and you’ll start having the spinning beach ball problems I discussed in the memory usage article and video.

Since memory can also affect speed, I’m a big fan of buying as much memory as you can afford, often even skimping on CPU speed. For instance, looking at the 27-inch iMac on the Apple website right now (and trying not to drool), I think spending $200 to upgrade memory from 4GB to 8GB would give you a faster and smoother experience than spending the $300 it costs to upgrade the CPU from 2.7GHz to 3.1GHz. (Admittedly that $300 also gets you a better graphics processor but they’re both so good few people would notice the difference.)

And if you don’t mind installing memory yourself (which I’ll cover in an upcoming video), that 8GB upgrade is currently only $53.99 at Crucial Memory.

Which reminds me that I need to clean my desk so you’ll have a positive memory of me after you watch the videos I’ll record there of me upgrading the memory and storage in my MacBook Pro.

Mac Help For Mom on Facebook

Do you use Facebook? It’s another way to learn about new Mac Help For Mom videos and interact with other people who like Mac Help For Mom. If you click the “Like” button on the Mac Help For Mom Facebook page then you’ll see the Mac Help For Mom Facebook posts in your Facebook News Feed, be able to comment on them, and join in the discussions.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Linda October 27, 2011, 6:31 pm

    I almost started to glaze over during the memory/storage discussion, but you kept it simple, I got through it, and I actually understood it. Well, sort of. I’ll need to read it again, but I’m pretty confident the “aha” moment will happen after the second read.

    • Steve October 28, 2011, 10:58 am

      Glad to hear that the glazing over effect subsided. I hope to educate without losing my audience. Please let me know when I fail one way or the other.

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