Howdy and welcome back to another exciting and fun filled adventure of The Weekly Geek!
In this adventure I want to discuss a little about Virtual Memory. No, we are not talking about Dungeons and Dragons or how you remember your past, what we are speaking of is a section of your hard drive that is used for your computers memory.
Definition: Simply stated, Virtual Memory (VM from here on out) is a section of your hard drive used in case you have to much stuff open and it all wont fit into the Random Access Memory (RAM – the “stick” of memory) your computer has.
Let’s cover some theoretical numbers here. Let’s pretend that you bought a budget computer from a large retailer and it included 128 Megabytes of RAM. Since this is a “newer” computer you have Windows XP Home edition on it. When you turn on your computer Windows installs its “stuff” things like the main program, services and needed startup routines. On my laptop this totaled 78.4 Megabytes (MB). That will leave your about 49.6 MB for everything else. Now since you are a safe computer user you will also have an anti-virus program, a firewall, a cookie watcher, one or more anti-spyware / anti-malware programs as well as a Trojan guard all running to prevent the diseases of Viruses, Worms, Trojans and Zombies. These programs on my laptop came to a total of 24.8 MB leaving me with only 24.8 MB to run everything else. Since most people do not know what is in their start up routine that is not Microsoft or security, this next area can and will greatly vary.
The following is a list of things that you might find:
- Keyboard preprogrammed shortcut keys
- Acrobat speed launcher
- printer drivers
- Microsoft office tool bar or “optimizer”
- program updaters
- calendar reminders
Note: Of course Compaq, Toshiba and Dell all add their “stuff” into the boot routine too. These can easily take up to another 20 MB (40 MB is more realistic). All of this and you have not even opened a program yet.
Now you need to get to work by opening your e-mail program which also has a SPAM (junk e-mail) filter added to it, and requires an internet connection. Then you open the calculator to help you balance your checkbook. Since one of your e-mails contains pictures of Aunt Louise you double click on them to view them thus opening a picture editor or viewer, all of which take more RAM.
In short you are now out of RAM. Once this happens, Windows starts shuffling “stuff” to the VM on you hard drive. So what is the problem, you ask. The problem is that RAM works in billionths of a second while hard drives (your VM) work in thousands.
Speed is defiantly the first issue. If your computer is constantly accessing the hard drive (you can tell by the little drive light on the front of the case) everything will take longer to open, save, close and work on. In addition, depending upon the version of Windows you use, VM can reserve too much of your hard drive and also it does have a tendency to move the wrong files and programs to the VM.
Over the next couple of columns we will walk together through the fields of VM searching out the perfect green pasture with low, low, low fuel prices. So until we meet again, have a speedy PC and virus free week.