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[All]Virtual memory


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Ever notice how you can have a lot of memory in your computer but yet it still seems to lag at times? Part of the problem is that Windows uses a thing called 'Virtual memory'. What is it? Really it's a file on one or more of your hard drives chewing up space and time. It's a necessary evil in most cases but you CAN have some control over it.


You can change the virtual memory settings by going to the System Properties (Windows Key + Break), Advanced (tab or link), choosing the Settings button under Performance, 'Advanced' tab, then clicking the 'Change' button under 'Virtual Memory'. From the resulting window, you will see a list of all available drives and the paging file size if that drive is being used at all. You can set which drives will be used for virtual memory and how to allocate the space for it.


So what now? Well, the best solution is to have a speed test done on all available drives and select the best drive (or best two drives) to use. If you only have one drive listed, then you only have one choice so there's no point in deciding. If you're not sure how to test the drives then don't worry about it, just use the default Windows drive (usually 'C:').


Now the big question, which setting to use. Even if you're running Windows XP with 3 Gigs of RAM or Windows 7 with 16 Gigs of RAM, it's recommended that you have Virtual Memory enabled. Some problems experience problems if it's off even if you have more than enough memory, while at other times having it enabled may just save your butt when you least expect it. So in short, it's not a good idea to turn off turn off virtual memory on all drives, but you can if you want. If you're going to use a drive for virtual memory, I personally recommend selecting 'Custom size'. Then you just need to decide how much of the hard drive space you want to reserve. Don't let the initial and maximum size choices fool you. It's best to keep both values the same. If you set the maximum size to be different than the initial size, then Windows will end up using resources to resize the virtual memory file to be bigger or smaller, as needed. If the file is set to one size (initial and maximum), then once the space is reserved, it won't be resized as needed, meaning you get slightly better system performance.


How much space to use is sometimes a tricky question. I personally recommend 4096 MB or more in increments of 1024 MB (5120 MB, 6144 MB, 7168 MB, 8192 MB, etc). If you decide to use less than 4096 MB, then set it for as much as you can, not going below 1024 MB. Yes, I know that it eats up some of your hard drive space, but anything less than 1024 MB is pointless to be honest. Also, you should set your virtual memory size to be no less than your installed memory. If you have 2048 MB installed, then don't set your virtual memory to be 1024 MB. What that will do, in essence, is limit your free RAM to be only 1024 MB as well. The other 1024 MB is being traded back and forth with the virtual memory. If you have the size set to 4096 MB, then if necessary, Windows can move 'everything' that is in RAM to the virtual memory, with plenty of room to spare for more, freeing up the 2048 MB you have installed. Think of it as having a small desk compared to a large table. As you need the space in front of you, you can move papers and other items aside and grab back things that you want as you need them. If you have two spots to use in front of you and only one spot to put something temporarily, then once you've filled your two spots, if you need another, you can only free up one. If you have four 'virtual' spots, then you can have both freed up.


Keep in mind that virtual memory is actually much more complex than described in the above paragraph. I'm trying to keep it simple to make it easier to understand and because I don't feel like researching the details myself.


For arguments sake, let's say you are going to use 4096 MB as the size. You need to enter 4096 into both the Initial size and Maximum size boxes. Next you need to click the 'Set' button. If you want to change the settings for other drives, then select those drives and make the changes as desired.


When you're done, click the "OK" buttons to finish up. You may get a prompt informing you that you need to restart the computer for the changes to take affect. So decide when you want to restart the computer and then when you are up and running again, you should notice a slight improvement in your computers speed. This will be because Windows isn't busy resizing the virtual memory file(s) from time to time. Instead, the files are a set size and so any access to the file(s) are for it's main purpose - to be additional computer memory.


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