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Retro Gaming Days - Memory Pains

By Aloysius Low - on 02 Nov 2010, 2:33pm

Back when we were all using mostly 386s and 486 equipped PCs, gaming on a PC was a slightly different affair to the very pretty and graphical games of today. Most games featured 16-bit graphics, required different configurations of your RAM to actually work. Does anyone remember the headaches of trying to squeeze out just enough Expanded Memory (EMS) from your measly 4MB of RAM while still having enough Conventional Memory to run games?

These days, with most computers having at least 1GB RAM, you might be scoffing at the pathetic 4MB that I had on my 486. Heck, I felt really awesome when I could actually get games to run without giving me error prompts like "Not enough EMS" or "Insufficient Conventional Memory". Learning how to manage your config.sys and autoexec.bat files to load programs into the Upper Memory Area (UMA) took my 10-year self lots of reading of the Dos 6.5 manual, but looking back it was a pretty simple thing to do by just adding a simple command to the config files.

That however, came with a problem, as sometimes, loading it there reduced the number of available EMS and XMS that you needed, so CTRL+ALT+DEL became a great friend of mine after every reboot and typing "mem" and hitting "Enter", while I tried to figure out which programs to load and which programs not to load. Made for a  great learning experience actually, as you gained valuable knowledge on what you could afford not to load (like CD-ROM drivers if you needed more Conventional Memory), or even turning off EMS for games that didn't need while ensuring you had enough Extended Memory (XMS) for said games.

Then along came Quarterdeck's QEMM software, which made everything a breeze. Run the program, and boom, you would have enough EMS, XMS and Conventional Memory to run all your games without any problems. It was a life saver, till the day I upgraded to 8MB RAM (and thereby voiding my warranty by opening the desktop), which meant that all my memory problems were pretty much gone. Soon after, Windows 95 happened and I realized I needed a faster processor and probably 32MB RAM to at least get this running smoothly.

Nowadays, when I look at my 4GB Windows 7 running system, I have to remind myself that I do not need 8GB, but then again I probably will. Given how things were just 19 years ago, I won't be surprised to find computers sporting at least 16GB RAM in the next ten years as the basic requirement. Or perhaps some genius will come up with a way to make programs not require so much RAM, though I highly doubt this will happen.





Aloysius Low

Aloysius Low / Former Tech Writer

Tech writer, gadget nerd, cat owner and social media junkie, Aloysius loves exploring the wacky side of tech, while tackling his notebook reviews.