How much RAM should a personal digital assistant contain? The original Palm Pilot, if memory serves, had 512 kilobytes of memory, about one-sixteenth of the 8 megabytes on a new Palm m500.
Today, Microsoft-based Pocket PCs have at least 16 MB of RAM and, recently, have shipped with 64 MB built in, a rather amazing amount to fit in one's hand.
When I noted that comparison in a recent e-Review, a couple of readers chastised me. "You don't know what you're talking about," they said. "Palm's OS doesn't need all that RAM and neither do users, unless they're into multimedia."
Well, I disagree--and so would Palm Inc.
"Memory is like money--you can never have too much," said John Cook, Palm's senior director of product marketing. "People looked at these [devices] as organizers; now the word is hand-held computers. They're starting to look at them like a notebook computer."
Cook said users have discovered the availability of third-party programs to download--and some of those applications can quickly chew up 8 MB of memory.
If all those options aren't enough, consider FileMaker Mobile, the recently launched database program that links to the desktop version of FileMaker. Multiple databases can be placed on a Palm device, limited only by the built-in memory. And, of course, there's e-mail to tote around, thanks to either Palm.net's service or, on the Handspring Visor, OmniSky.
All of a sudden, that 8 MB can look awfully small.
"Absolutely, you want to have more than 8 MB," said Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing with GartnerGroup. "Memory is directly related to the application you're trying to run."
But it also relates to battery life and the cost of the devices. Both Palm and Handspring say that going above 8 MB of RAM means taking a hit on power consumption.
So what's a hand-held maker to do? Handspring offers memory expansion via the Springboard slot, but to use it means you can't use other attachments. Palm's latest models, the m500 and m505, each offer a slot for stamp-sized MultiMediaCards that can hold up to 128 MB of RAM. HandEra's 300 offers both the MultiMediaCard slot and a CompactFlash slot, both of which can be used to add memory.
However, not all Palm software can take advantage of the extra space. Tak Tsubota, director of engineering for mobile products at FileMaker, admits that FileMaker Mobile can't yet utilize the MultiMediaCard memory on a Palm, although that is something the firm hopes to fix in the future.
Handspring and Palm are looking at increasing the basic RAM in their models, but neither is ready to announce a beefed-up model.
Mark A. Kellner is editor at large for Government Computer News and hosts "Mark Kellner on Computers" at http://www.adrenalineradio.com from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursdays.