by Steve Lopez

Once in a while I come across something in a program that seems trivial at first but has some larger significance upon later reflection. The "Limits" dialogue in ChessBase8 is such a feature.

You get to this dialogue by going to the Tools menu, selecting "Options", and clicking on the "Limits" tab. Much of this dialogue consists of settings that can impact performance or shortcutting; we'll look at each of them in turn.

The first is "Maximum board windows". This setting lets you control how many games you can have open in separate board windows simultaneously. Each open board window requires some amount of system resources (RAM), especially if you're using "wood" or "marble" style boards. This isn't critical on machines with a lot of available RAM, but it can be a big factor on lower-end machines or if you're used to working with multiple applications running at once (all of which are also using varying amounts of RAM).

As an aside, I'd occasionally get calls long ago from users of older ChessBase versions who complained that the RAM indicator at the bottom of the Database window had dropped to 1% and they couldn't open up any new boards. What I discovered what that these folks were entering games by hand, saving each game, and then opening a new board window without closing the previous one; ultimately, they'd wind up with dozens of open board windows, each of which was using a small chunk of RAM but which cumulatively added up to nearly all their system's RAM being utilized.

"Maximum board windows" keeps this from happening by closing the first-used board window once the limit set in this dialogue has been exceeded. So, for example, if you've set this part of the dialogue to "5" and open up a sixth board window, the first game you opened will close automatically. Setting the value to "5" means that you can't have more than five games open in board windows simultaneously (and thus won't experience weird problems caused by maxing out your system with too many boards windows open at once).

"Maximum database windows" works the same way; the setting determines how many game lists you can have open in different windows at the same time. If you set this for "3", open up three separate game lists simultaneously and then subsequently open a fourth, the one which you initially opened will close -- you can't have more than three game lists open at once if you have the "Maximum database windows" set to "3".

The next two values, "Number of recent games" and "Number of recent databases" refers to the corresponding submenus under the File menu. These are shortcuts that let you reopen recently opened games or databases. Go to the File menu, select "Recent Games", and you'll see a list of the games you've recently had open in board windows. The "Recent Databases" command refers to game lists that you've recently had open.

You can control the length of these submenu lists by setting a value in the "Limits" dialogue. Setting "Number of recent games" to "4", for example, and going to File/Recent Games will give you a list of the last four games you viewed; click on one of these games to reopen it in a board window. And the same idea applies to "Number of recent databases", except that clicking on an entry under File/Recent Databases will open the game list for that database.

The "RAM" value is easy to understand -- it's just the amout of RAM you have installed on your system (which will typically display as a meg or two lower than what you actually have installed); it's not a display of free RAM (i.e. RAM that your system isn't using).

"Cache for reference database" determines how much RAM ChessBase should use for storing the reference database in temporary memory. This can help speed up the searches you do on that database. The first search on that database will result in it being cached; any subsequent searches during that ChessBase session will be much faster. The specific value in this field will be a matter of trial and error (because of the variables such as the size of your reference database, the amount of RAM you have on your system, the amount of RAM you've allocated to engine hashtables, the number of engines you typically run simultanously, etc.), but some tweaking and playing around with this value should get you where you want to be.

Until next week, have fun!

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