Using Google to find answers to esoteric questions has built-in risks. In terms of wisdom and experience, the crowd is not always right and certainly not consistently reliable.
Today’s case in point involves a new system I placed into service last week. It’s a Dell Inspiron 530, purchased for about $500 from the Dell Outlet Center two weeks ago, with an Intel Q6600 quad-core processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 500 GB hard drive. Its role is to replace a three-year-old dual-core Pentium D830 system that I use for testing Windows Server stuff. Installing the RTM version of Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition (x64) was fast and easy. Getting the release candidate of Hyper-V working was a little trickier (more on that later) but it’s also working just fine.
However, this morning, when I went to create a new virtual machine running Windows XP, I was surprised to see an error message telling me I didn’t have enough RAM. Really? I had two other VMs running at the time, each using 1024 MB of RAM. There should have been enough left over for the 512 MB I had specified.
But when I looked at Task Manager on the server, I saw that the system was only recognizing 3.3 GB of RAM. This problem shouldn’t crop up on a 64-bit operating system, unless there’s a problem with the hardware.
So I asked The Google to help, searching for 4gb x64 inspiron 530. And in the top five search results I saw a post from Ubuntu Forums with preview text reading, “The Inspiron 530 has had its BIOS tweaked so that it is not possible to use all 4GB, including windows (Even in 64-bit mode).” A commenter on the same forum as recently as February insisted:
You can search dell community forum and get the same answer. The manual said 4 gb max with note(*) that you will not see 4 gb; so you cannot win this argument with dell. It is crippled in the bios. This is Dell line of low end desktop so people will tell you that Dell will probably not going to uncripple the bios.
And indeed, another post in the top five search results was from the Dell Community forums, with the heading “Inspiron 530 BIOS 1.0.12 does NOT correct 4GB RAM problems … If you read the actual post, you might infer that his real problem is the fact that he’s using a 32-bit version of Windows XP Pro, which will not see more than 3.25 GB of RAM. But how many people will just see that title in the search results list and file away the “fact” that this BIOS update doesn’t work? A search of other posts on the Dell Community forums didn’t turn up any more encouraging words.
Now, I had previously noted that this BIOS update was available (the system I received was using BIOS revision 1.0.10) and had downloaded but not installed it. So I ran the BIOS updater, restarted the system, and … well, see for yourself:
That number had previously been 3316 or so. The only change I had to make to unlock that extra RAM for my 64-bit OS was to update the BIOS. And the conspiracy theorists who were certain that Dell was deliberately “crippling” this system to force customers to buy more expensive hardware? They were … what’s the word I’m looking for here? Oh yeah. They were wrong.
I had a similar experience last week, when I ran across an add-in that promised to make the SnagIt screen capture program (one of my 10 favorite Windows apps of all time) work with Windows Live Writer (another one of the all-time faves on the list my ZDNet readers created). The only review at Microsoft’s Windows Live Gallery said “Doesn’t work. Unusable.” So I tried anyway. And you know what? It works. In fact, it works exactly as advertised and it’s a real timesaver.
Like I said, don’t believe everything you read.
Update: I’ve now upgraded this system to 6GB of RAM. Windows recognizes and uses the entire amount.