Virtual Memory

This week I think I will once again take the time to answer a question from one of my readers:

“We read your columns in the Herald Express and wonder if you can help. We have a Packard Bell PC which we’ve had for about 2½ years and recently when shutting down the PC we keep getting the message ‘virtual memory low - Microsoft increasing’ which frequently disrupting us when just working on the machine normally.The PC has also been noticeably slower of late.

When working properly, our PC is a wonderful tool for keeping in touch with friends and family, some of whom are on the far side of the world and we would certainly miss it.

John & Kate Clayden, Torquay”

Before we begin troubleshooting your problem I think it would be beneficial to explain to all my readers exactly what virtual memory is as the term should really be included as part of your IT vocabulary.

To start with the basics, RAM (Random Access Memory) is used by your computer as a short term store in which to keep programs such as Windows and Microsoft Word whilst they are being run by the user.Computers do have a limited amount of RAM and so if the programs you currently have running require more of this memory than your system currently has available then the Operating System uses a portion of your hard drive to emulate this temporary store and store the overflowing data.

If we take the typical computer, we can say that it was a 80 GB hard drive and around 256mg (quarter of a GB) of RAM so we can see that the hard drive is typically hundreds of times larger than your normal short term store so why is running low on RAM a problem if the hard disk can act as an overflow?The main reason is that hard drives are EXTREMELY slow in comparison to RAM so is ideal to have as much of this type of memory as possible so that Windows doesn’t have to resort to having to set up large temporary stores on a slow hard drive.

If Windows starts complaining that virtual memory is low then this could be caused for a number of reasons but it is most likely that for some reason the maximum size of the virtual memory pool is set far to low.To allow the system to automatically determine the size of the virtual memory pool in Windows XP you should do the following:

-Right Click on ‘My Computer’ and then click on properties

-Click the ‘Advanced’ tab and then under the ‘Performance’ category select ‘Settings’

-Again click on ‘Advanced’ and then under the ‘Virtual Memory’ category select ‘Change’

-Select the tick box for ‘System Managed Size’ and then continue to click ‘OK’ until you return to your desktop,

-Restart your machine.

It is surprising how much difference having a large amount of RAM can make to a sluggish machine; especially one that runs Windows XP.If you can allow the computer to store all of its temporary files in fast memory rather than forcing it to have to overspill and start using a much slower hard drive to keep these files then you will find things a lot less sluggish.

If you do have ample RAM, ample hard drive space and you’ve followed the above procedure to allow the system to automatically determine the virtual memory settings and you still receive errors relating to the size of your virtual memory then visit and refer back to one of my previous articles relating to removing resource memory programs from your system as this is likely to be the cause of the problem.

About the Author - Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.