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What Is Virtual Memory? How To Handle it in Windows

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013 by | Filed Under: Computer Terms

Hemachandra from Bangalore, India. writes:

My desktop screen sometimes reminds me that “Your virtual memory is too low.” What does it mean and what is to be done regarding this?

If your PC has Windows installed and freezes frequently with the “virtual memory is too low” error message, it can happen because of two things- either you’re running your PC with a low amount of physical RAM, or a buggy application is causing a memory leak, eating up all your RAM and continuously using more and more until you terminate the program manually.

The operating system uses some hard disk space as virtual memory (C:\pagefile.sys is default for windows) in addition to physical memory to ensure that if you are running applications that your physical memory can’t accommodate, it can use the space of virtual memory. The default size of virtual memory for windows usually is 1.5 times the amount of physical memory installed.  Hard disk data transfer speed is much less than physical RAM, and more usage of virtual memory slows down your computer. You can add some extra amount of physical RAM to make programs run smoother, allowing less usage of virtual RAM.

If you can’t do that as of now, you can increase the size of the page file.

1. Log in as an administrator and quit all applications.

2. Go to Control Panel and click System and Security (for Windows 7), or System and Maintenance (for Windows Vista), and then click System.

 3. Click Change Settings in the Computer Name, Domain, and Workgroup Settings section.

4. Go to Advanced tab then in the Performance area, click Settings.

5. Click the Advance tab and click Change button in the Virtual Memory section.

6. De-select the Automatically Manage Paging File Size for All Drives option.

7. Select drive C or the drive in which your OS is installed. Click Custom Size.

8. In the Initial Size box, enter a value equal to 1.5 times the amount of the physical RAM.

9. In the Maximum Size box, enter a value equal to 2 times the amount of the Initial Size value, or enter as much as you need.

10. Click Set, and then click OK until all the boxes close.

11. Restart your computer.

Now, if the “Low on virtual memory” problem is being caused by a buggy application, increasing the size of pagefile.sys will not solve it. Identifying the source of any problem is the most important thing for any fix. Here is how to do it.

1. Open Task Manager by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del and go to the Processes tab.

2. Click View, Select Columns.

3. Check the Virtual Memory Size box and click OK.

4. Now you can see the VM size column in Processes tab. Click the VM size column name twice to sort the list in descending order.

If you are a Windows 8 user or can’t find the VM size by following the steps mentioned above, use a program named Process Explorer as Task Manager alternative. Download it and just run the .exe file.

1. Go to View > Select columns.

2. Go to the Process Memory tab.

3. Check the Virtual Size box and click OK.

4. Sort the list in descending order by clicking the column name twice.

So, by using the methods explained above, you will be able to determine which application is using more virtual memory than it usually should. Some common offenders are chrome.exe, firefox.exe, iexplorer.exe, winword.exe, etc. If you see anything unusual other than those, end those processes and repair it, or uninstall it and then reinstall it. Normally, updating that application fixes that problem. If your problem still exists with that application, contact their support team.

– Soumen

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