If you are trying to check whether your computer has the same memory issues that my laptop had, please be aware that Windows Vista may not display the correct amount of available memory. Please see my related post "Vista reports inaccurate available memory" for details on how to get the amount of memory really available to Windows Vista.
As a result of the problems with the CX210X, a class action lawsuit against Gateway is initiating. The law firm of Shepherd Finkelman Miller & Shah is handling claims of the possible class. If anyone is interested in sharing their experiences regarding RAM related capability in the CX210X or any other computer, you should contact Nathan Zipperian at 1-877-891-9880 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
First a little background…. I purchased a Gateway CX210X convertible notebook in August of 2006. One of the reasons I purchased this notebook was because at the time it was one of the only Tablet PCs that supported a 64-bit processor and "supported" 4 GB of RAM. The system shipped with a Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB of RAM, and Windows XP Tablet edition. Well, I knew, Windows XP Tablet Edition is a 32-bit version of Windows XP, so I knew it would not make all 4 GB or RAM available to me, so I bought the system with only 2 GB of RAM. When Vista came out, I got Vista x64 because it was a 64-bit OS and had the Tablet PC extensions I needed for my tablet. I also purchased two 2 GB memory modules that met the specifications for the system (DDR2 SO-DIMM, PC2 5300, Dual Channel). I plugged in the memory, saw it detected in the BIOS setup screen, and booted up the computer. I opened up the Vista task manager expecting to see 4096 MB (4 GB) of total memory, but I only saw 3070 MB (3 GB).
Tracking down the missing RAM
I could not figure out what was going on. I had (or thought I had) all the components needed to get 4 GB of usable RAM out of my notebook. The notebook was advertised as supporting 4 GB of RAM after all.
I text-chatted with several Gateway tech support representatives about my issue. The reps were just shy of useless. It seemed to me that their sole function was to find someone other than Gateway to hold responsible for the issue I had with their notebook.
I had to dig around the BIOS settings myself to disable the quite boot mode so that the BIOS post would show me that only 3 GB of RAM passed the boot-time memory test. When I saw this my hopes were momentarily raised as I thought the solution to my problems was as simple as getting a replacement memory module. Unfortunately I tested each module individually and with other modules. There were no issues with the modules. For some reason the BIOS was only able to access 3 GB of the installed 4 GB of memory. Again, I had to figure this out on my own. The tech support reps had no clue.
The last Gateway rep with whom I chatted said that I needed to talk to Microsoft because the problem was with Vista. I was doubtful but I wanted to keep an open mind and my hopes alive. I did some research online and came to a knowledgebase article Microsoft posted regarding systems that would not have all 4 GB of memory available to Vista. The article is available here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/929605. The article stated that there are a number of hardware and software factors that need to come together in order for Vista to make use of all 4 GB of RAM in a system. One of the main components that Microsoft listed was the system chipset. Here is the an excerpt from the article:
For Windows Vista to use all 4 GB of memory on a computer that has 4 GB of memory installed, the computer must meet the following requirements:
The chipset must support at least 8 GB of address space. Chipsets that have this capability include the following:
The CPU must support the x64 instruction set. The AMD64 CPU and the Intel EM64T CPU support this instruction set.
The BIOS must support the memory remapping feature. The memory remapping feature allows for the segment of system memory that was previously overwritten by the Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) configuration space to be remapped above the 4 GB address line. This feature must be enabled in the BIOS configuration utility on the computer. View your computer product documentation for instructions that explain how to enable this feature. Many consumer-oriented computers may not support the memory remapping feature. No standard terminology is used in documentation or in BIOS configuration utilities for this feature. Therefore, you may have to read the descriptions of the various BIOS configuration settings that are available to determine whether any of the settings enable the memory remapping feature.
An x64 (64-bit) version of Windows Vista must be used.
I have a CPU that supports the x64 instruction set specified in the second bullet, and I had installed an x64 version of Vista on my tablet. That takes care of bullets 2 and 4, but I did not see anywhere in the Phoenix BIOS that referred to memory remapping mentioned in the third bullet. Notice that the Intel 945 GM chipset is not listed in the first bullet. The Microsoft article further states:
Note When the physical RAM that is installed on a computer equals the address space that is supported by the chipset, the total system memory that is available to the operating system is always less than the physical RAM that is installed. For example, consider a computer that has an Intel 975X chipset that supports 8 GB of address space. If you install 8 GB of RAM, the system memory that is available to the operating system will be reduced by the PCI configuration requirements. In this scenario, PCI configuration requirements reduce the memory that is available to the operating system by an amount that is between approximately 200 MB and approximately 1 GB. The reduction depends on the configuration.
Bingo. That certainly sounds like my situation. That's why I said earlier that the Gateway tech support was just shy of useless and not completely useless. They did set me on the path to finding the Microsoft knowledgebase article that pointed the problem of the missing operating system RAM to the chipset that Gateway was using in this laptop.
Apparently this is a well known fact in the computer hardware field, though I did not know about it. What's worse, is that looking at computer web sites now, there is no easy way to determine if a system I buy today will leave me in the same predicament. Does a new Gateway / HP / IBM / Dell laptop that claims to support 4 GB or RAM really support that or only halfway, as mine did?
The definition of "support"
Now, I make my living in computers, so I understand as well as anyone that there are always caveats when it comes to dealing with technology, But this borders on false advertising. If a system is advertised as supporting 4 GB, that should mean that the system, all the way from the hardware up through to the OS, can actually use all 4 GB. If not, the system does not really support 4 GB. It supports 3 GB. It's like buying a car that claims to support 4 wheels but finding out that there is only room for three wheels on the axels. The support for the fourth wheel comes via a spare mount on the roof.
The blame game
For a while I was trying to figure out who is to blame for the mess. It did occur to me that it might be my fault. I may be stupid, or uneducated. I am admittedly not a hardware expert. I know enough to be dangerous, as the saying goes. Eventually I discounted that. The consumer should not have to be an expert on a particular piece of hardware to be assured that they are getting what was advertised. Don't we pay taxes and have laws for that sort of thing? So, if its not me, is it Intel's fault for misleading verbiage about their chipset? Well, that's a possibility.
However, Intel specifies in their chipset specifications that hey are using 32-bit memory addressing. This is located in section 4.2.4 of the Mobile Intel® 945 Express Chipset Family Datasheet. Also, Intel states that their components are just part of the system. They do not control what the system BIOS or operating systems shipped with the system do. I eventually discounted blaming Intel because in my particular case I did not buy the system from Intel.
I bought the system from Gateway, and they advertised the system as supporting 4 GB of memory. Gateway is the company I eventually wrote out the check to, so they are ultimately responsible for making sure that the systems they sell function as advertised.
Spreadin' it around
I've been pretty hard on Gateway in this post, but they are certainly not the only system builder that would be affected by the issues discussed in the post. As I mentioned before, this is a widespread issue in the PC hardware community. It affects everyone from complete systems builders to motherboard manufacturers to VARs. The reason I am so <understatement>upset</understatement> with Gateway is that their tech support people tried to make it somehow my fault for hoping that a system advertised as supporting 4 GB of RAM could actually use 4 GM of RAM.
By the way, if anyone thinks that this was a fluke and has been corrected, think again. As of today (May 30, 2007) Gateway is still advertising the CX210X convertible notebook as supporting 4 GB of RAM when the only OS choices they offer for it are 32-bit OSes (Windows XP Tablet Edition and Vista 32-bit).
This whole scenario should have been very simple. Get two memory modules, replace old memory with new memory, boot up computer, and use new memory. Instead, it turned into my personal version of the three hour tour. If anyone out there has had a similar experience, I welcome you to leave a comment. If anyone from Gateway is reading this, please comment. I hope I am one of the few to encounter such level off negative experience with your company. If anyone is reading this post and is planning to max out the memory in a system, be warned: don't believe the system builder's web sites, especially when crossing the 4 GB boundary.