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Programs to Help End RAM Cram

September 02, 1993|LAWRENCE J. MAGID | LAWRENCE J. MAGID is a Silicon Valley-based computer writer

A few years ago, I traded my old IBM PC for a model with a megabyte of memory and a gigantic 40-megabyte hard disk. It was like moving into a new house with large, empty closets. Today I live in the PC equivalent of a mansion, with eight megabytes of RAM and a 200-megabyte hard disk. Yet I'm cramped for space.

That's because programs take up a lot more room than in the past. The newest release of WordPerfect for DOS, version 6.0, takes up 16 megabytes of disk space, and the documentation weighs more than the notebook PC I'm running it on. Microsoft Windows takes up about 15 megabytes, and many Windows programs occupy 10 or more megabytes of hard disk space.

The same is more or less true for random-access memory. Because of the way MS-DOS works, some programs must run in the first 640K of RAM regardless of how much RAM you have. So it's possible to run out of memory.

Many programs on the market can help. Stac Electronics of Carlsbad, Calif., for several years has published Stacker--a leading disk compression program that about doubles the amount of data you can store on a hard disk. Santa Monica-based Quarterdeck Office Systems is the leading vendor of memory management software. Quarterdeck Expanded Memory Manager enables users of 386 or better machines to load memory-resident software in upper ranges of memory so that most of the first 640K is available for other programs. Other leading memory managers include 386Max from Qualitas and NetRoom from Helix.

Both Stac Electronics and Quarterdeck took a big sales hit in April when Microsoft introduced MS-DOS 6.0. That's because the new version of DOS has its own disk compression program, called DoubleSpace, as well as an improved memory management feature, MemMaker. So why would anyone want to pay $79 extra for Stacker 3.1 or $100 for QEMM 7.01?

For many people, there is no reason to do so, especially those who are swimming in disk space and have enough memory. But if you are experiencing RAM cram or running out of disk space, the investment might pay off. Both Stacker and QEMM work better than their counterparts that come with DOS.

On my machine, QEMM came up with 51K more memory compared to MemMaker. Both QEMM and DOS automatically configure your system, but QEMM's Optimizer does a better job than DOS' MemMaker because it tests thousands of possible combinations to find the best. MemMaker did an OK job, but to get the most out of DOS I had to hand-tune my system--a task I wouldn't wish on an unsophisticated user.

QEMM is very easy to install and use and, as far as I can tell, is compatible with just about all software and hardware.

Stacker also outperforms its counterpart in MS-DOS. DoubleSpace let me store 360 megabytes of data on my 200-megabyte hard disk. With Stacker I can store 435 megabytes--a major improvement. Results vary widely depending on the types of files on your disk. Like DoubleSpace, the newest version of Stacker, 3.1, loads itself into memory automatically even if you boot from a floppy disk.

Both DoubleSpace and Stacker are reasonably safe, but they do entail some risk. Most users will do fine with either compression scheme, but InfoWorld, a respected trade weekly, has reported potential data loss problems with DOS 6.0 and DoubleSpace.

Microsoft denies there are any bugs in DOS 6.0, but DOS 6.2, coming soon, supposedly will provide a "safer environment." The upgrade will reportedly be available cheap or by download from Compuserve.

Stacker, which has been on the market for several years, comes with a number of extra safeguards. For instance, it will scan your disk during installation to check for potential problems. Stacker also comes with utilities to evaluate the integrity of your data. Microsoft is expected to offer similar features in DOS 6.2.

Stacker also keeps a second copy of the DOS file allocation table, which can aid in the recovery of damaged data. And Stacker is a bit faster than DoubleSpace, according to my test and tests conducted by PC magazine.

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