Stretch PC RAM; 64 Wire Wars; Glance at Works GS; Super Amiga; Mac's Big Brother; and ST Starglider
You can never be too rich or too thin-and you can never have too much RAM. But it's hard to know which direction to take when you want to upgrade your computer's memory because the PC's memory structure is so difficult to understand. Not only does PC memory come in three flavors-conventional, extended, and expanded-but since the PC can't accept memory beyond 640K and be happy with it, you usually need a memory manager, too.
If you're planning to upgrade, the first type of memory to install is conventional, which brings your PC up to its full complement of 640K. Often, upgrading your conventional memory is simply a matter of buying some chips and popping them into your motherboard. There are three things to be aware of, however.
First, make sure you get memory chips that are at least the same speed as the chips currently in your machine. (Look at the last two numbers on the top of the chips: 12 means the chip's speed is 120 nanoseconds, 15 means 150 nanoseconds, and so on.) Second, chips come in bit sizes, with the most common size being 256 Kbits. If you have an older machine, all your memory slots may be filled with 64-Kbit chips. You'll have to remove some of these and install the larger-capacity chips. Third, PC chips come in banks of nine. Eight bits make a byte, so eight 256-Kbit chips make 256K, but you need one extra chip for parity checking, for a total of nine chips for each bank.
If your machine has 640K, the next type of memory to install is probably expanded memory. Expanded memory works in PCs and ATs, and it's supported by a variety of commercial applications and DOS 4.0.
The key to expanded memory is the driver. There are three currently available: LIM EMS (Lotus/Intel/Microsoft Expanded Memory Specification, or simply EMS for short) 3.2, EMS 4.0, and E/EMS (Extended/Expanded Memory Specification). The choice is simple, however. You'll want a board that supports all, or at least most, of the EMS 4.0 specification. Most boards say that they comply with EMS 4.0, but sometimes they support part of the specification only.
The crucial ingredient in the 4.0 specification allows you to multitask on your PC. Before buying a board, ask the manufacturer or salesman this vital question: Will this board multitask with DESQview? If the answer is yes, you're in business. If it's no, keep looking.
The last kind of memory, extended memory, is only available on ATs and 386s. DOS applications can't really use extended memory the way they use expanded memory, but there is software that can install disk caches and ramdisks in extended memory.
If you have an AT, extended memory is often the least expensive upgrade because you can install 512K of it right on your motherboard without buying another board. The AT has room for one megabyte of RAM on its motherboard, so you can simply buy the chips and slide them in. Be sure to match the speed of the chips the same way you would when installing conventional memory in a PC or XT. And note: If your AT has 640K, you'll have to remove the two banks of 64-Kbit chips that provide the last 128K and replace them with 256-Kbit chips (you can't just buy 360K to bring your machine up to snuff-that would be too simple).
If memory expansion sounds complicated, take heart: More and more manufacturers are designing boards that can be configured as conventional, expanded, or extended memory. One worth considering is Intel's Above Board Plus (Intel, Mail Stop C03-07, 5200 NE Elam Young Parkway, Hillsboro, Oregon 97124-6497; 503-629-7354; $495-OK, . $795-512K). This is an upgrade to Intel's famous Above Board 286, which didn't fully support EMS 4.0 (Above Board 286 owners can upgrade to the Above Board Plus for $150).
The Above Board Plus supports all types of memory, it can multitask, and it can hold as many as eight megabytes of RAM. You can install the Above Board in about 20 minutes. The technical setup is done with software, so there are no nasty DIP switches or jumpers to fool with.
Intel's documentation includes a manual for experts and a manual for novices. Both are clear, well designed, and easy to use. The board comes with some software-a device driver you'll need to put in your CONFIG.SYS file, a print buffer, a ramdisk, and installation and diagnostic programs.
Your performance boost with Intel's Above Board Plus, or any memory upgrade, depends on the way you use the memory. If you have, for example, one megabyte of expanded memory and you dedicate it all to a disk cache, you'll have dazzling disk performance.
If you use your extra memory for multitasking or context switching, you'll be able to fly between programs, but the ones that access the disk won't run any faster than they did before you added the memory.
Meet the Block
If you've been around personal computing for a while, you may be familiar with SkiWriter, the first word processor written for laptops, or SkiWriter II, an outstanding word processor and telecommunications package for the Commodore 64. Both text crunchers were written by Ken Skier, to whom Commodore users owe another debt of gratitude for his excellent book Top-Down Assembly Language Programming for Your Commodore 64.
For the last five years, Ken has been designing Byline, a PC desktop publishing package marketed by Ashton-Tate. Byline 1.0 was released about a year ago and Byline 2.0 is due out by the time you read this.
Not only did Ken write Byline by himself, an incredible feat in this age of team and committee programming, but he also wrote it all in assembly language. It almost killed him. (There will be more on Byline in a future column.)
After he'd finished Byline, Ken was looking for a small project. One happened by. A friend said he couldn't see the cursor on his new laptop. Ken said he could fix that.
The result is No-Squint Laptop Cursor (SkiSoft Publishing, Suite 79, 1644 Massachusetts Avenue, Lexington, Massachusetts 02173; 617-8631876; $39.95 plus $2.50 shipping and handling)-a product that not only makes your cursor big and bold, but also allows you to control the rate at which the cursor blinks. To use the program, you simply type lcd on, or Icd followed by very fast, fast, normal, slow, or very slow. If you want finer speed increments, the numbers 1 through 9 can be used. No-Squint is a TSR that takes, about 1 K of memory.
The improvement in size is a boon, but the control of blinking speed is a godsend. A slowly blinking cursor is much easier to see than a fast one, and it's easier on the nerves, too.
If you have a laptop, No-Squint is a must. If you have any MS-DOS machine, No-Squint is highly recommended. On a desktop PC, the program does everything it does on a laptop and more.
The PC's hardware cursor, besides being small and fanatically fast, obliterates the letter beneath it. If you have No-Squint installed, you can actually read the character under the cursor. This may not sound like much, but the difference it makes during long stretches at the keyboard is amazing. Give yourself a break: Try No-Squint Laptop Cursor.
- Clifton Karnes