Low Virtual Memory!

Question

I have 328MB RAM yet I get a message saying: “System low on virtual memory". Please advise.

- Ann

Answer

This question was answered on August 18, 2005. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

Virtual memory is used by Windows to simulate working memory and act as a staging area for the physical memory (commonly referred to as RAM – Random Access Memory).

Whenever you load more programs than will fit in RAM, it uses empty space on the hard drive to simulate additional memory

Items that are not needed for the current task are sent “backstage” to the virtual memory until needed.

The less RAM you have, the more your system must use the slower virtual memory to juggle all of the applications that you invoke This is why adding RAM is the “best-bang-for-the-buck” upgrade for increasing the performance of most systems.

When you get a “system low on virtual memory” you are exhausting both the RAM and virtual memory that has been allocated by the operating system.

Under normal circumstances this would only occur if you had actually opened too many programs, but in reality the most common causes for getting this message have less to do with the number of programs the user is opening and more to do with issues that have impacted the operating system.

One possibility that is easy to check is the available free hard drive space used for virtual memory Open “My Computer” and locate the primary hard drive (usually C:) and right-click on it then choose “Properties”.

A pie chart representing your hard drive will appear with the blue section representing the used space and the purple representing the free space If the purple is a sliver, it’s time to get the “urge to purge”!

Uninstall any unneeded programs and run the Disk Cleanup utility (Programs/Accessories/System Tools) then check the pie chart again If you still have very little free space, it may be time to get a bigger hard drive.

If you have plenty of drive space, it may be severely fragmented which reduces the amount of “contiguous” space available for virtual memory A disk utility included in Windows called Disk Defragmenter or Defrag located in the Programs/Accessories/System Tools folder may help.

Hidden programs that are running in the background (Adware, Spyware, viruses, worms and Trojans) are a very common occurrence for Internet connected computers and could be loading down the operating system before you even begin.

Windows XP users can open the Task Manager (Ctrl-Alt-Del) to see how many “Processes” are running in the background With all other programs closed, click on the Performance tab in the Task Manager to see a graph that shows CPU Usage History and Page File Usage History.

If the CPU Usage History graph is spiking up and down and no programs are open, you likely have some pests running around in your system.

At the bottom left corner look for the number of Processes running; the lower the better While there is no exact number that is right for all systems, if you have more than 25 or 30 running with no programs open and your CPU meter is spiking, you may want to have a technical person do a thorough examination of your operating system.

Advanced users can try altering the way virtual memory is allocated by manually setting the minimum and maximum virtual memory settings at 2.5 times the amount of RAM installed on the system (If you have to ask how, you should not try!)

This will grab a chunk of free drive space to create a permanent paging file that will always be the same size instead of fluctuating as Windows needs it but make sure you have plenty of free drive space first.

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on August 18, 2005