64-bit Vista, memory, and you

Gateway's newest desktop taught us a few things about how much memory is just too much memory.

2GB too many Gateway

Last month's desktop announcement from Gateway showed us two things: one, that desktop memory is now more affordable than ever; and two, that the 64-bit software era is upon us in full force.

Each of the four desktops Gateway announced that day comes with 64-bit Vista, and they also all have either 4GB or 6GB of RAM. Considering the decidedly mainstream $550 to $1,150 price range for those PCs, all of a sudden those exotic features don't seem so exotic any more. But then we got our hands on one of those new Gateways for a review. What we found surprised us.

What we learned in our recent review of the $1,150 Gateway FX4710 is that 6GB of RAM actually made almost no difference in current applications. We became suspicious when we compared its scores with the 4GB-equipped Gateway FX7026. To be sure, we ran our complete desktop benchmark suite (minus Crysis, which was acting weird) on the FX4710 three times, with 2GB, 4GB, and 6GB of RAM installed.

As you can see in the charts below, moving from 2GB to 4GB in 64-bit has a definite performance impact, in some cases, especially in Photoshop and on our multimedia multitasking test, both of which handle large amounts of data at once. But going from 4GB to 6GB got us much less of a boost.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
4GB Gateway FX7026
106 
4GB Gateway FX4710
108 
6GB Gateway FX4710
108 
2GB Gateway FX4710
143 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
4GB Gateway FX7026
142 
6GB Gateway FX4710
144 
4GB Gateway FX4710
149 
2GB Gateway FX4710
150 

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
4GB Gateway FX7026
523  
6GB Gateway FX4710
524 
4GB Gateway FX4710
529 
2GB Gateway FX4710
548 

Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
6GB Gateway FX4710
10,767 
3,009 
4GB Gateway FX4710
10,628 
2,975 
4GB Gateway FX7026
10,306 
3,008 
2GB Gateway FX4710
9,343 
2,682 

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200  
1,280x1,024  
6GB Gateway FX4710
83 
141 
2GB Gateway FX4710
82 
135 
4GB Gateway FX4710
82 
135 
4GB Gateway FX7026
79 
123 

Gateway is not the only vendor guilty of selling more memory than is necessary at the moment. HP also has options for 6GB and even 8GB of RAM on some of its desktops. And to both vendors' credit, at least they offer 64-bit Vista. Dell still doesn't.

This is also not to say that 6GB and higher will never have an impact. We just need new versions of Photoshop and other applications to come out that can support those higher memory allotments. But right now, you'd be smarter to spend your money on a faster CPU or graphics card, or some added features before boosting a 64-bit Vista system with more than 4GB of memory.

 

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