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Community Newsletter: Q&A forum: What do you mean, Windows Virtual Memory is too low?!

by: Lee Koo (ADMIN) June 15, 2007 6:53 AM PDT

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What do you mean, Windows Virtual Memory is too low?!

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) ModeratorCNET staff - 6/15/07 6:53 AM


Help! I have been using a laptop for a year and a half now and love it. I have Windows XP as my operating system, and lately I keep getting this little warning saying that my 'Windows Virtual Memory is too low'. Can anyone tell me what that means and what I can do about that? I have never encountered that before, and everyone I talk to who is the least bit computer-savvy doesn't know what it means, either, nor has it happened to them. I appreciate any advice or help you can offer. You've helped before, so I turn to you again. Thanks!

--Submitted by Denise D.

Answer voted most helpful by our members

Low virtual memory

Any programs currently running on your computer must reside in memory. These programs include Windows itself and any programs that you have started; they may be running in the foreground where you interact with them, or in the background where they act on their own or await your interaction.

The main memory in your computer is the physical memory, or RAM (random access memory). This physical memory generally is not large enough to hold all of the running programs, so Windows sets up some additional virtual memory as a file on the hard drive. It then swaps portions of the programs between the physical and virtual memories, always having the currently active portion of a program in the physical memory.

Windows sets the default minimum size of virtual memory at 1.5 times that of the RAM, and the maximum size at 3 times the minimum. Windows then manages the actual size, expanding and contracting it as needed within these limits provided you have adequate space on the drive. You can override this and set the minimum and maximum limits of virtual memory yourself; however, I usually do not recommend this for most users.

The message that virtual memory is low means that the programs you are running need more space, but Windows cannot find enough within the constraints imposed. So, lets try to find out why this is so in your case. You say this problem has only arisen recently, and this suggests it may be due to recently added programs or perhaps due to your hard drive getting too full.

First I would check the drive: Go to Start, click on My Computer, right click on the hard drive icon, click on Properties, and select the General tab. If you dont have at least eight or ten percent free space, the drive is getting too full. This would be a good time to perform a Disk Cleanup by clicking that button, even if the disk is not full; you probably will recover quite a few megabytes of wasted space. If the disk is too full, you should also archive some seldom-needed files to CDs or to an external drive.

Too many programs running can also deplete your virtual memory, and you may have some running that you do not know about especially if you have installed new ones recently. Some programs (actually, the programmers) egotistically think that you will always want that program running; therefore, when it is installed, it places itself in your startup group. It is now always sitting there, idling in the background and using up resources, even if you seldom use it. To find such programs, go to Start and click on Run. Enter msconfig in the dialog box and click OK. When the System Configuration Utility comes up, select the Startup tab. You will see a list of programs that can start immediately when Windows boots; if there is a check in the box at the left of the name, the program will start; if there is no check, it will not.

You will, of course, want Windows components, security programs (antivirus, firewall, anti-spyware, etc.), control programs for peripherals, etc. to start immediately. Most other programs are optional; you generally can start them when needed through All Programs on the Start menu, or through shortcuts on the desktop. Some of the program names are rather cryptic, so you may need to google the names, or refer to a database of startup names, such as the one from bleepingcomputer, to identify the program and decide if you really need it at startup. To keep a program from starting, simply check the box to uncheck it.

Hopefully, the above actions will resolve your problem. If not, you should check to see if the amount of virtual memory has been set to less than the Windows default. Go to Start, Control Panel, and then click on System. Choose the Advanced tab, and under Performance, click on Settings. Choose the Advanced tab, and under Virtual Memory, click on Change. If System managed size is indicated, the Windows defaults apply. If Custom size is chosen, and the size is less than the Windows default, change to System management. You could also customize it, setting the minimum to at least the recommended minimum and the maximum to more than the Windows default say four or five times the minimum. If you make a change, click on Set and then on OK.

However, if the Windows default is inadequate, I would want to find out what is creating such a demand. Simultaneously hold down Ctrl and Alt, and hit Del to bring up the Task Manager. Select the Processes tab; click View on the Menu bar, click on Columns, and select Virtual memory. You will now see how much RAM and how much virtual memory each process is using. Look for anything using an inordinate amount of virtual memory perhaps hundreds of MB. This is the culprit, but you may need to google the process name to learn what program is involved. It could be a memory intensive program such as movie editing, or it could be a poorly written, poorly debugged program that gives rise to memory leakage. This is when a program does not release memory when it is finished with it. It then will take new memory the next pass, and not release that. This can continue until all available memory is used.

In either of the above cases, you must minimize the programs running concurrently with the memory hog. If memory leakage is suspected, I would try to find another, better written program to do the job.

I hope this helps explain the cause of your problem and provides possible resolutions.


Submitted by El Alquimista

If you have any additional tips or advice for Denise, let's hear them. Click on the "Reply" link to post. Please be detailed as possible in your answer and list all options available. Thanks!

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