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Solve Virtual Memory Problems

Andrew from MI asks:

I keep getting the message \”need more virtual memory\”. I have tried a few different ways to increase it, with no success. Can I get a better graphic card and will that help? I have 4.00 GB RAM (3.25 usable) No problem with computer slow down. My operating system is 32 bits whatever that means. Is it possible to upgrade to 64?

Note: The solutions presented in this article require an installed copy of Windows 7 and full administrator rights. Windows XP users, see the notes throughout the article for similar steps.

To answer your questions first let’s see what virtual memory is.
Every program or application that runs on your computer needs memory to run. This includes the operating system itself and any background programs that get loaded at system startup.

Most of the memory in your computer is physical memory, or RAM (Random Access Memory). Generally, physical memory isn’t large enough to hold all the programs running on a computer. As such, Windows uses virtual memory to compensate for any lack of physical memory.

Windows frequently swaps portions of programs between physical and virtual memory prioritizing active programs, which are always loaded into physical memory. This allows computers that have less physical memory (RAM) than the minimum requirements of a program to be able to run that program. Although this can cause slowdowns attributed to frequent hard drive swapping.

Virtual memory is present in your computer in the form of a file on your hard drive. This file is called a Page File or a Swap File and it’s usually found in the root of the C: drive. By default Windows sets the Page File size between 1.5 to 3 times the size of the physical memory installed in a computer. The entire process is automatic, expanding and contracting the size of the Page File within these limits.

Now that you have a general understanding of virtual memory, let’s look at how we can solve the “low virtual memory” error message.
“Low virtual memory” messages indicate that programs running on your computer need more space but Windows can’t find enough space within the imposed limitations. This can be caused by faulty programs not releasing memory space after termination, or it can be caused by setting the Page File size too low and even by not having enough free hard drive space.

From your question, I see you have more than enough RAM to run most current programs. In addition, since you do not experience slowdowns, I suspect the problem might be either a faulty application or not enough hard drive space.

To solve this problem first you need to check if Windows is managing the size of your Page File automatically.


Begin by going to the Start Menu and clicking on Control Panel. Next, click on the System and Security group. Then, click on System and finally click on Advanced system settings.

This will bring up the System Properties window. Click on the Advanced tab and under Performance, click the Settings… button.

In the Performance Options window, click the Advanced tab. Then, under Virtual memory, click the Change… button.

This will bring up the Virtual Memory window. Here, make sure the Automatically manage paging file size for all drives box is checked and click OK to exit. If any other option is checked, change it back to automatic and restart your computer.

Note: In Windows XP, go to the Start Menu, click on Control Panel and then on System. Then follow the same steps above until you reach the Virtual Memory window. There, make sure the System managed size box is checked and click OK to exit.

Now that you know that Windows is managing the Page File, you should check if you have enough free hard drive space.


Go to the Start Menu again and this time, click on Computer. Take a look at the C: drive. If you have less than 10% of free hard drive space, your drive is too full. Use Disk Cleanup, uninstall unneeded applications and archive some files on DVD’s to make more room for the Page File on your drive.

If you still receive the “low virtual memory” message after checking these two issues, it’s most likely that a program is causing the error.

Here’s how you can check if a program is causing a memory leak.

Press Ctrl + Alt + Delete from your keyboard and click on Start Task Manager from the list to bring up the Task Manager. In the Task Manager window select the

Processes tab and click on View from the menu bar. Next, click on Select Columns.


Then, check the box next to Memory -Paged Pool and click OK.

Note: In Windows XP follow the same steps above. However, after you select Columns, check the box next to Virtual memory and click OK.


In the Processes tab, look for a process that has a large value in the Paged Pool column. You’ll probably have to look up the name of the offending process online to determine its parent application. If you find a suspicious application, the only solution is to uninstall it from your computer (or apply the latest patch) and see if you still receive the error message.

As for your other questions, unless you’re using an on-board graphic card that shares video memory with RAM you don’t need to change your graphic card to solve this problem. Switching to a 64bit operating system only requires a 64bit copy of Windows (and a compatible CPU). Also, 64bit operating systems can address all of your 4GB of RAM but not all applications are compatible.

You might be interested in this Worldstart article if you want to use the full 4 GB of RAM in a 32bit OS.

I hope this article was helpful in answering your questions.

~Cosmin Ursachi