THANKS FOR THE MEMORY

by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, December 1993

Having memory problems? No -- not the kind they talk about in those thirty minute infomercials. Your computer's memory is at issue here. If RAM Cram is your disease, then Netroom is your cure. (Hmmmm. Perchance one too many Stallone commercials?)

Historically, the RAM (random access memory) manager market has been dominated by QEMM from Quarterdeck and 386MAX from Qualitas (not necessarily in that order). Helix's (Long Island City, NY, 718-392-3100) Netroom (originally called Headroom in the single-user version) was considered a close, but mostly unknown, third.

While QEMM and 386MAX alternated in holding the throne of the most efficient and effective memory manager, Netroom quietly kept up with their latest RAM-squeezing tricks. Usually, it was disqualified from the top spot in reviews not due to any technical deficiencies, but rather for a lack of sophistication in its original user interface.

My first encounters with Netroom were on LANs. The people at Helix discovered, early on, that the local area network market was potentially the most in need of memory management (hence the product name). They quickly grabbed the technological lead in manipulating the workstation software from Novell's Netware.

They followed up by being the first, and until recently the only, RAM manager with severely discounted network licenses. Their competitors required users to purchase a full single user copy for each workstation while Helix was selling ten-packs and fifty-packs and had special deals for higher quantities. It was this discounting that led me to sell Netroom to clients who otherwise could not afford serious memory management software.

The criticism of Netroom's old interface was a moot point for me. The reviews assumed that inexperienced civilians would run memory management software on complicated networks. As systems integrators, we take care of installing and fine-tuning systems before our clients see them. This negated the criticism, since the interface was easily learned by those with heavy manual memory management experience.

I still remember one of the first machines on which I installed Netroom two years ago. It was a dedicated fax server running Optus Facsys LAN-based fax software. The system had three Intel Satisfaxion cards, each with multiple CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT entries. These drivers were in addition to the standard Netware Shell software. After running Netroom and hand tweaking the system, a CHKDSK command revealed over 710K total RAM with 638K available!

Until recently, I continued to recommend Netroom's competitors (leaning somewhat in favor of QEMM) for non-network and small network situations. Now that has changed. The latest version of Netroom supports a user interface that is arguably better than the competition. On top of that, it has leap-frogged over them to provide the most technically elegant and most effective RAM management software available.

"Cloaking" is Helix's word for its latest RAM-cramming trick - one that is inherently safer and less prone to mysterious compatibility problems than its rivals methods. Helix has licensed both a 32-bit system BIOS (Basic Input Output System) and a 32-bit video BIOS from Award Software Incorporated, a prominent BIOS developer, and included it within Netroom. With Netroom, you can effectively replace your system's BIOS chips on the fly during its boot-up sequence with the latest advanced BIOS. The BIOS occupies only 8K of system memory within the base 640K versus a more typical 96K adding the speed of 32-bit access and an API (Application Programmers' Interface) as well. The speed difference is immediately humanly (as opposed to just performance testing software) detectable, even on a 486/66DX2 machine with a fast video card!

The API allows programmers to write utilities to use the full power of the 32-bit BIOS while occupying little or no RAM within the base 640K. Helix packages some utilities including a disk cache with Netroom that use this API with outstanding results.

Two of my recent implementations of Netroom demonstrate its effectiveness. In the first, I was configuring a LAN using all 486/66DX2 workstations running Microsoft Windows. Using Netroom's DISCOVER program to explore the characteristics of the computers and its CUSTOMIZE program to obtain optimum configurations, I was able to get an average 629K free. That was remarkable considering that network, anti-virus, LAN management, security, LAN inventory, and caching software were all being run on these machines.

In the second situation, a single user document and image management system was being run on a machine that was also a workstation on a LAN. This application software required approximately 580K to run with all of its features active and reliable. In addition to the network workstation software, this computer had special drivers for a SCSI-II (Small Computer Systems Interface, Version 2) card running both an external multifunction optical disk and a scanner. On top of that, it had drivers for a separate SCSI controller for a two gigabyte tape drive.

The original memory available was 475K. My initial attempt at improving that was with QEMM. After much hand tweaking, I finally managed to get 524K available memory. That wasn't enough. I switched to Netroom. With some more manual manipulation, I got up to 578K! Now, that's some improvement!

I was not yet satisfied, so I upgraded the system to DOS V6.0. Netroom's manual stated that it would automatically recognize DOS V6 and would be more efficient working with it. This effort garnered another 6K. The system now had 584K - more than the minimum required to run the applications software!

After testing the system for compatibility problems, I found that while all normal applications worked, some DOS utilities, like MODE and TREE, locked the system up with bizarre memory problems. Luckily, DOS V6.2 was released just as I came to this impasse.

If you own a copy of DOS V6.0, you are automatically licensed to upgrade it to V6.2. This client had just upgraded several machines from very old versions of DOS up to V6.2, so the diskettes were easily at hand.

This upgrade to DOS V6.2 successfully eliminated all compatibility problems. It also followed the rule about not trusting products with a version number having all zeros after the decimal point.

An interesting aspect of this last system was that, after the failure of my experiments with QEMM, I had been warned by the manufacturer of the optical disk drive that their drivers could NEVER be loaded high by memory management software. Oh well, never say "never".

1993, Wayne M. Krakau