Virtual memory is an integral component of the Microsoft Windows operating system. Its importance goes hand in hand with the benefits it brings at relatively low cost.
When the computer lacks the required amount of RAM (Random Access Memory) to execute a program, the operating system will use virtual memory to compensate for this deficit.
Virtual memory works by combining your system’s RAM with temporary storage space on your hard drive. When the RAM runs low, the operating system will start to move data from the RAM to a swap file or paging file on your hard drive. Moving data from the RAM to this particular file, frees up RAM space, allowing your computer to carry out more tasks.
The more RAM you have installed on your computer, the faster programs will load up and run. If your system is hampered by a lack of RAM, increasing the size of your virtual memory, can in many instances act as a viable substitute. However, the computer is capable of reading data from RAM much quicker than it can from the swap file (on your hard drive), so in the long term, you may want to consider a memory upgrade.
Common Virtual Memory Error Messages
If, while using your computer, you receive the fairly common virtual memory error message:
“Your system is low on virtual memory. Windows is increasing the size of your virtual memory paging file. During this process, memory requests for some applications may be denied. For more information, see help.”
You have three options available to you. The first option is to purchase more RAM (as I have previously mentioned).
As a second option, you could attempt to optimize your system better, which ordinarily would alleviate performance-based error(s). For a catalogue of performance tips, you can read this article.
The last and probably the quickest option available to you is to increase the size of the swap file; which would open up additional space on your computer for it to run your programs.
Windows, by default, will usually manage the size of the swap file, but it is possible for you to manually change the size of the swap file, which you would want to do if you were constantly receiving virtual memory error messages.
Changing the Virtual Memory Size
Modify the size of your virtual memory swap file is a fairly simple process, providing you know what you’re doing. With that said, below I have outlined step by step instructions on how to correctly carry out this task:
1. First, you will need to boot into your computer using your main User Profile (with Administrative Privileges).
2. Once you have successfully booted into your computer, press Windows Key + R (to load up the Run Command box), then type Control Panel and click on OK.
3. Once Control Panel loads up, type System into the Search Control Panel box, then click on View advanced system settings, from the Search Results.
4. The System Properties applet should load up on the Advanced Tab, from here, click on Settings, under Performance.
5. A Performance Options applet should appear, click on the Advanced Tab, and then click on the Change button, under Virtual memory.
6. On the Virtual Memory applet, un-check the box next to Automatically manage paging file size for all drives, then click on your primary (C:\) drive, followed by Custom Size. From here, you can set your Initial Size and Maximum Size in MB and click on Set, then OK.
If you only have one partition on your computer, then you should set its Initial and Maximum size to 1.5 X RAM. If you have more than one partition, then you should set the ‘other’ partition to 250MB (for both Initial and Maximum size). This is primarily for best practice purposes; having a small swap file on your secondary partition will optimize system performance by eliminating memory dump issues.
Note: Your other partition, being the drive that your operating system is NOT installed on.
If you are unaware of how much RAM you have in your system, you can find out by doing the following:
1. Click on the Start/Windows button (in the right-bottom corner of the screen), then right-click on Computer and select Properties.
Note: Computer is named This PC in Windows 8/8.1/10.
2. This will load up System; from here you will be able to find out how much memory you have on your computer next to Installed memory (RAM).
Users with SSD drives have additional problems of their own – this is because with virtual memory the operating system is constantly writing to the hard drive. On SSD drives, constant reading, and writing will decrease the drives life span. However, the main benefit to having a swap file on an SSD drive is that the computer can access data from these drives almost as fast as it can from RAM, so in essence, increasing virtual memory would be like increasing the amount of memory in your computer.
However, the benefits are not without their tradeoffs – thus, you may decide not to use virtual memory altogether. You can do that, by clicking on the Drive (C:\), then clicking on No paging file, then clicking on Set, followed by OK.
That said, without virtual memory space, your system will be limited in the number of programs that it will be able to run at any one time. So I guess it depends on what works best for you.
Once you have made the necessary modifications to your virtual memory space, your system should now be working a little faster, and the error messages should no longer appear.
However, if you are continuously hitting the swap file memory cap (as illustrated in the initial error message), even after you have made the necessary changes, then it’s probably time you considered purchasing more RAM for your computer. The performance boost from buying more RAM can be quite significant, especially in order systems.