Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 167 / AUGUST 1994 / PAGE 67

Fast forward: free up more memory for multimedia programs. (Multimedia PC) (Column)
by David English

Have you tried to run a new multimedia application only to be told you don't have enough memory? Today's more demanding multimedia applications and games are pushing the limits of your PC and grabbing every last bit of its memory to perform their tricks. Some programs need all the conventional memory you can give them. Others require megabytes of extended memory to run properly. Others need megabytes of expanded memory. Even with 4MB, 12MB, or 20MB of RAM, you can still run out of memory if your system doesn't optimize your 640K of conventional memory and you haven't set up your system to provide expanded and extended memory to the programs that need them. This month, I'll attempt to explain how these kinds of memory work and recommend some programs that can help you avoid the dreaded multimedia memory bite.

Generally, memory problems occur with DOS-based programs. Windows knows how to take any leftover memory and use it in the best way possible. DOS programs, on the other hand, are still limited by the original 640K that was allocated for programs with the first version of DOS and the original IBM PC--back when a 64K machine was considered fully configured. Today's PCs usually have at least 4MB, so most CD-ROMs and games grab as much of the 640K of conventional memory as they can and take the rest in the form of either expanded or extended memory. The expanded memory standard is a throwback to early attempts to move beyond the 640K limit. Few people actually buy expanded memory anymore, but there are many software methods that cause extended memory to mimic expanded memory. These methods generally involve using a program called a memory manager.

Most memory problems occur at boot-up, when your CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files load a series of drivers. Problems can occur even when you use DOS 5's or DOS 6's own memory manager, called EMM386, to load some of these drivers into the memory area just above the 640K (this area is called upper memory or high memory). If you have DOS 6, you can use MemMaker to place each driver in the best position in order to save as much of your 640K as possible. It's not unusual for EMM386 and MemMaker to load 60K-100K of drivers entirely into upper memory, leaving you more than 600K for your DOS applications. Sometimes, though, MemMaker can't fit all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together and has to leave some of your drivers in conventional memory. Then you could end up with only 540K-580K free, which isn't enough for many DOS programs, especially multimedia programs and games.

To load more of your drivers into upper memory, you can use one of the dedicated memory manager programs, such as QEMM 7 (Quarterdeck Office Systems, 800-354-3222, $99.95), 386MAX 7 (Qualitas, 800-733-1377, $99.95), or Netroom 3 (Helix, 718-392-3100, $99.00). These programs go far beyond DOS's EMM386, not only loading your drivers into upper memory but performing such specialized tasks as loading your Video BIOS into extended memory.

Of the three, I've had the best luck with Netroom, but I've talked to others who prefer either QEMM or 386MAX. Using Netroom, I've been able to load my multimedia drivers, network drivers, VESA video driver, Stacker 4.0 driver, and mouse driver, as well as Laptop UltraVision, SMARTDrive, and MSCDEX.-EXE--and still have 612K left over for DOS applications.

In addition to developing Netroom, Helix has recently released a program that frees up even more conventional memory. It provides replacement programs--each of which takes only a few kilobytes of conventional memory--for your mouse driver, SMARTDrive, and MSCDEX. The program is called Multimedia Cloaking ($39.95); it can be used by itself, with EMM386, or with any of the dedicated memory manager programs.

The bottom line is that you can do something about DOS-related memory problems. If you have DOS 5, DOS 6, or Novell DOS 7, check the manual to get started using the tools you already have. For further relief, check out a dedicated memory manager program, Multimedia Cloaking, or both. You may be surprised to see how many of those unloadable programs will suddenly work on your computer.