Download more RAM — Safe? Scam? Joke?

A software developer asked me today about a website called Download More RAM. I don’t think he heard my other coworkers snicker. He asked if it’s possible to download RAM, then asked if it was a security issue. I said it’s best not to visit it, and spared him the history lesson.

Yes, there’s some history to it.

The origins are credited to a 2004 post in a discussion forum–a Mac forum, appropriately, and I’ll have more on that in a second–where someone asked how to download more RAM and apparently he was serious.

Can you actually download more RAM?

download more RAM
You cannot download more of this stuff. The only way to add more RAM to your computer is to plug an appropriate board, like one of the above, into your machine. Here are some tips on buying the real thing.

Since the question has come up, I’ll answer it. You cannot actually download RAM, just like you can’t download a second monitor. Or a newer CPU. Or a million dollars.

RAM chips are a physical thing–silicon chips that store information and allow a CPU to store and retrieve it very quickly.

The concept of “Soft” RAM

I say it’s appropriate that this question first appeared in a Mac forum because in the 1990s there was a product called RAM Doubler, produced by Connectix, originally for the Mac. You couldn’t download it. It cost around $50 back when retail stores still sold software. It used unused memory to compress data that would otherwise be swapped out to the hard drive, under the theory that it was faster to compress and decompress to RAM than to swap from disk. The product did actually work to a degree. But when people bought half as much RAM as they knew they needed and counted on RAM Doubler to make up the difference, it usually didn’t work out too well for them. Tragically, it worked best for the people who needed it the least.

The product sold well, though. That led to Connectix developing a similar product for Windows. And Syncronys marketed a program called SoftRAM that claimed to do the same thing, but the Syncronys product, it turned out, didn’t actually even try to compress RAM. When word got out about the Syncronys fraud, it pretty much destroyed the product category. Connectix went on to develop a number of very successful emulation and virtualization products. Syncronys went out of business.

“Soft” memory today

The idea hasn’t completely gone away though. Linux has the built-in ability to compress memory, and some Android phones use it. Quietly. Windows 10 has the ability to compress memory too, but Microsoft doesn’t talk a lot about it. Basically, the issue all along has been that memory compression is faster than swapping out to disk, but it will slow you down if you’re doing it constantly. And if you’re doing it constantly, it’s one more thing that can go wrong, which was what my Mac users from the previous century taught me the hard way.

But that feature, if you have it, is part of the operating system. You’re not actually downloading more RAM. It’s reaching a bit to call the website a scam, since they’re not charging you anything (though I bet their ad revenue is non-trivial). Downloadable RAM is definitely a meme or joke for people who understand computer hardware to play on people who don’t.

Is safe?

Is it a security issue? Not intentionally. The guy who created the site did it to be funny. But due to the site’s popularity I would imagine it’s an attractive target. If someone were to get into the site and inject a little extra into his downloadable code, they’d spread pretty far. And running strange code you got off web sites that make too-good-to-be-true claims is a good way to get into trouble. You miss some jokes that way, but you also miss computer repairs that way. Malware is nastier than ever, so I’m fine with missing some jokes. I recommend you do the same.

Further reading

If you want to make your computer faster without adding more hardware, here are my tips for optimizing Windows 10. Maybe they will help. If you actually do need more memory, here are some tips for buying memory that will help you get a good deal on good quality.

%d bloggers like this: