Common Virtual Memory Problems

In computing terms, virtual memory represents a type of memory addressing or management method which is commonly applied to computer systems that perform multitasking operations. In modern operating system platforms, multitasking gives the computer user the ability to maximize his computing time by allowing different processes in the background.


These processes consume a portion of the Random Access Memory (RAM) installed on the machine. The RAM acts as a temporary storage area for vital information required by the running processes. Since RAM storage is considerably faster compared than other types of storage, it allows the computer system to run multiple applications without a noticeable loss in performance.


Virtual memory includes the process of swapping between the hard drive (and similar high capacity devices) and the RAM (active storage). The virtual memory makes use of the hard drive as a type of memory address space (hence the term "virtual") to supplement RAM capacity. Unfortunately, this commonly leads to a slowdown because the access speed of the hard drive is slower compared to the RAM.


The display of the "virtual memory is low" alert is one of the most annoying and alarming messages that can be seen in any computer system. Basically, this means that the amount of RAM installed in the machine is not sufficient to cater to all running programs. One of the simplest solutions to this problem is to upgrade your RAM capacity.


Another common problem associated with virtual memory is the incorrect size allocation. Essentially there is no right or wrong amount of virtual memory that can be specified for a machine. Since virtual memory is considered mainly as a backup for when the RAM is used up, the amount is largely dependent on how the computer system is configured (hardware-wise) and used.


As a general rule though, virtual memory should not be less than 150 percent of the total amount of RAM installed in the machine. Remember that a value that is either too high or too low will actually result in a slower computer system.


To adjust the value for the virtual memory:

  1. Click on the Start menu and select the "Control Panel" option.
  2. Click on the "Performance & Maintenance" category and choose the "System" icon.
  3. In the System Properties window click on the "Advanced" tab.
  4. Click on the "Settings" button under the "Performance" category.
  5. Select the "Advanced" tab and click on the "Change" button under the "Virtual Memory" setting.
  6. Select the drive where you want the Paging File (virtual memory) to be created. This is normally the same drive where the operating system is installed unless the amount of virtual memory cannot fit on this drive.
  7. Click on the "Custom Size" checkbox option under the Paging File Size category.
  8. Provide the amount for both the initial as well as the maximum virtual memory to be allocated by the operating system. Having the same amount for both initial and maximum values allows the computer system to operate in a consistent speed.
  9. Click on the "OK" button to close all open windows and restart your computer system. This should resolve the majority of the problems associated with virtual memory.

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