Virtual Memory Part 2

Howdy and welcome back to another exciting and fun filled adventure of The Weekly Geek!

In this exciting and fun filled article, we will continue to explore the fields of Virtual Memory (VM). For an introduction to VM check out Part 1, otherwise just follow the not so yellow brick road.

In the shortest description I know how, VM is simply a space on your hard drive that is used when your RAM (memory) sticks are full. This can be a great benefit or a nasty thorn in your side. You see many programs benefit from and even require some VM, as a rule of thumb though most everyday applications do not need it.

Microsoft and most other operating systems automatically assign VM, one of the many problems is how much space is assigned to VM and how files are shifted in and out of it. I want to go over the following issues and how to resolve them in this and upcoming articles.

  1. How to determine how much VM you need
  2. How much VM does your computer currently have?
  3. How to change the VM size
  4. Alternatives to VM – Hint: More RAM
  5. How keep good stuff (like your operating system files) out of VM

Issue 1, How to determine how much VM you need.

Determining how much VM you need can and will cause a heated “Ford v. Chevy” debate among geeks and techies alike. Here I am going to give you my professional opinion and some reasons why my humble but accurate opinion is the way to go.

With your computer on and the desktop showing (close any programs that you are using) right-click on the “My Computer” icon. Some versions of XP do not show this icon on the desktop, simply click on the “Start” button in the lower left corner of your screen and then you need to right-click on the “My Computer” icon that is part of the list that appears on the right.

A drop down menu appears, we will now click on the word “Properties” that appears at the bottom of that menu. After a moment a new window labeled “System Properties” appears. On this initial page your basic system information appears. We need to look at the lower right hand corner and spot the word “RAM”. Just to the left of that is how much system RAM is available. Numbers can range from 32 to 512 or even 1024 and are in MB (Mega Bytes). Write this amount down, we will need it later.

If you want to know how much RAM you should have, as a rule of thumb I suggest for Windows 98 and ME at least 256, for Windows 2000 and XP at least 512, however more is better and less is taxing upon the system.

Issue 2, How much VM does your computer currently have?

Let’s start off with going through the simple steps to figure out how much VM you system is currently using. For our first example we will use Windows XP:

  • Remaining on the “System Properties” window, you will notice across the top are several tabs.
  • Click one time on the “Advanced” tab. There will be three sections under the “Advanced” tab.
  • The top section should be “Performance” we will next click on the “Settings” button under the “Performance” section. This will bring up a new window labeled “Performance Options”.

If you do not get this window, you accidentally pressed the wrong “Settings” button, simply click the “X” in the upper right hand corner of the window that appeared and try again.

  • With the “Performance Options” window open, select the “Advanced” tab. This will open a page with three sections, the bottom section is “Virtual Memory” and under that you will see a statement similar to “Total paging file size for all drives: ???MB”, where ??? is a number.

Now for those of you using Windows 98 or ME, let’s take a look at how much VM your system is using.

  • You should still be looking at the “System Properties” window.
  • We need to go click on the “Performance” tab on the far right.
  • Once that page is opened you will need to look at the bottom section labeled “Advanced settings”. There is a button labeled “Virtual Memory” click one time on it.
  • This will open a new window labeled “Virtual Memory”.

Most likely the radio button next to “Let Windows manage my virtual memory settings (Recommended)” is selected. If you look below that you will see a grayed out area that shows your “Hard disk”, “Minimum” and “Maximum”. By looking here you will see that the VM is using from 0 to 100% of your available hard disk. This may be labeled under “Maximum” as a numeric amount or as “No Maximum”, in either case this is defiantly not what is best for you or your computer.

Before I go on to tell you how to change your VM let me tell you a few reasons why you should and then give you the guidelines that many technicians including myself are following.

The first few were listed in Part 1 so click here to review them, otherwise just keep reading.

  • VM is on your hard drive, your hard drive transfers data at either 133MHZ or 150 MHZ under perfect conditions. In all reality you probably get 25 to 50% that speed. On top of that to get to the VM from what ever the hard drive was doing you have what is called “Access Time” where the needle of the hard drive has to move from where it is to where it needs to be, this ranges from 8.5 to 10 milliseconds. Finally the data has to move to the memory (RAM) and CPU (processor) to be placed in a usable format.
  • If the data was in RAM in the other hand (and not in VM) then it can be accessed from 200 to 1000MHZ depending upon the age of your computer, access time is in the billionths of a second and there is no latency in the transfer of data. All this adds up to seconds per file and minutes per day.
  • Another big issue with VM is that Windows operating systems (OS) sometimes put themselves in VM accidentally this can cause a major slow down and cluster when that part of the is needed. Now there is a work around for this and without being too shameless, I have that work around in my book.

Note: We will discuss topic Issue 3 in the next article, for those of you counting

Issue 4, Alternatives to VM.

To avoid using VM or at least reduce the amount you need you MUST add more RAM to your system. If you have Windows 95, 98 or ME I strongly recommend 512MB, not more because of some other issues that are discussed in my book. Remember my recommendations above are the minimum. If you use Windows NT or 2000 one gigabyte (1024 MB) of RAM should be used and for XP anything over 1024MB is great.

Once again, before you write me, these recommendations are for best optimizing your computer and reducing the need for VM.

To find out exactly how much RAM your computer can hold and for a very good price, go to crucial.

To determine how much VM you need involves a little thinking. Earlier I had you check how much RAM you had in your computer, take that number and double it up to 1024. This is just a basic rule to use. So if your computer has 64MB of RAM you should use 128MB of VM however if your system has 768MB of RAM you should use no more than 1024MB of VM. Once you cross the 1024MB of RAM threshold you should use no VM. There are ways to test your needs of VM if you have over 1024MB of RAM however we do not have time here to go over them, just trust me on this one.

Well, this article has taken two weeks to write and is covering over two pages so I shall stop here. Next week we will walk through the valley of setting up your VM manually and together we will be victorious. Until we meet again, have a speedy PC and virus free week.