The falacy of cheap RAM

I’ve heard people justify the memory consumption of this or that application they are either developing or evangelizing with the argument that “RAM is Cheap.” It can be a very seductive argument, especially if the app is really fast as a result of its memory consumption.

Unfortunately, the “Ram is Cheap” philosophy, like many similarly concise words of wisdom, is only appropriate in a limited set of circumstances, such as when your app is going to be the primary application on a machine. This might be the case with a graphics app, or a piece of server software, in which case the machine is probably speced for your app, and RAM is a small price to pay to make things run really fast.

But how many people can really claim to be developing such a mission critical piece of software?

Very few, and those who delude themselves into thinking otherwise are going to make it less and less likely that their app ever becomes a must-have.

Why? Because they are going to find themselves fighting for a place in physical memory with the one or two RAM hungry mission critical apps on the machine, along with all the other nice-to-haves, and RAM may be cheap, but it isn’t that cheap.

For one thing 1/2 GB of reasonably fast memory probably costs more than most any other single component in a mid-priced PC (excluding monitor). For another, most PCs can only address 2-3GB of RAM, and may only have physical space for half of that. If the slots are full, RAM has to be pulled to make way for any upgrades.

But really, who is going to upgrade for an it-might-be-nice app that seemed too slow on their system in the first place?