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QEMM -- THE LESS YOU NEED IT, THE MORE IT HELPS

QEMM 7.0 is the name of the latest edition of a venerable memory utility from Quarterdeck which is being advertised as an "essential memory manager for Windows 95." QEMM was developed in the days when MS-DOS ruled the personal computer world and its memory management shortcomings were a headache for users and software developers alike.

The problem from the start was that MS-DOS was first developed as an operating system for computers running the Intel 8086 family of microprocessors. Those chips could "address" only a single megabyte of memory at a time, which seemed a huge amount when the IBM PC first came to market in 1981, but which soon became a severe limitation on what the increasingly sophisticated application software could do.

Word processors could hold only documents of a certain size in memory. More importantly, large spreadsheets could not be accommodated. Applications themselves needed to be as compressed as possible so as not to hog memory. All sorts of ingenious schemes were developed to get around the one-megabyte barrier, as it came to be known, but everyone recognized them for what they were -- work-arounds, not solutions.

One of the most useful such schemes was incorporated into the original versions of QEMM, which succeeded in freeing additional memory within the one-megabyte limitation by placing parts of the operating software in what is called "upper" or "high" memory, space that would otherwise go unused. This meant more memory available for programs and for the work files programs created.

The development of Windows, and especially Windows 95, ushered in a new era. No longer was Windows to run essentially as an add-on to MS-DOS, but would be an entirely new operating system which, while compatible with MS-DOS, would have none of its clunky memory management problems. While most users may not find Windows 95's memory management perfect, it's generally agreed that it is a huge improvement.

That is, in part, because the later versions of the Intel family of microprocessors can "address" massive amounts of memory, and under Windows 95 they do so without being hampered by an operating system designed to address only a single megabyte at a time.

All of this raises the question of what QEMM 7.0 can do that is so "essential" to Windows 95. It still performs its magic in moving things around in the first megabyte of memory and therefore liberates a little acreage for program use. But when a computer has 16 or 32 megabytes of memory, how much difference does it make to save a hundred kilobytes or so? The answer would seem to be: Not much, and a test of the program on a Pentium laptop with 16 megabytes of memory supports this conclusion.

To begin with, the manufacturer says QEMM requires 16 megabytes of memory to work at all and 32 megabytes "for improved performance." In other words, the less you need it, the more it will help you. Built into it are two Windows 95 utilities, one called MagnaRAM, which is supposed to compress data in memory and help avoid the continual "disk swapping" that computers with limited RAM must do as they "swap" data in and out of memory. It also includes something called "TurboLoad II," which is supposed to accelerate the loading of 32-bit programs into memory. But for MagnaRAM and TurboLoad, Quarterdeck recommends the user have at least 24 megabytes of memory.

The program installs easily from a CD-ROM, and once installed, automatically runs its own "optimization" utility which determines which configuration of low memory is most efficient. Once that is done -- it takes only a few minutes -- you are supposed to see the wondrous benefits, chief among them faster program loading. This would be welcome indeed, if it were so, because many programs load painfully slowly under Windows 95.

Without QEMM, Microsoft Internet Explorer took about 40 seconds to load on this computer; with QEMM 7.0, 38 seconds. Without QEMM, Microsoft Word for Windows 95 took 20 seconds to load. With QEMM, it took exactly the same time. One program, a battery utility called Maxtime, would not load at all, reporting this computer was now "not supported."

QEMM comes with a graphical "control panel," which purports to keep score on its performance. It will tell you that innumerable disk "swaps" have been avoided and that other wonders are happening. It also reported that it had boosted the RAM on this 16-megabyte system by only 1.3 megabytes, which illustrates the problem. This $69 program, though easy enough to use, is most effective with computers with large amounts of memory, and thus less need for it, and least effective with low-memory systems that need it most.

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