Maximizing Your Virtual Memory

Windows XP is an example of a typical operating system that has virtual memory. Windows has an intelligent virtual memory manager that uses a default setting to help Windows allocate hard drive space for virtual memory as needed. For most circumstances, this should meet your needs, but you may want to manually configure virtual memory, especially if you have more than one physical hard drive or speed-critical applications.

To adjust your virtual memory:

  1. Click Start and open the Control Panel. Double-click on System. The system dialog window will open.

  1. Click on the Performance tab and then click on the Virtual Memory button.

  1. Click on the option that says Let me specify my own virtual memory settings. This will make the options below that statement become active.

  1. Click on the drop-down list beside Hard disk: to select the hard drive that you wish to configure virtual memory for. Remember that a good rule of thumb is to equally split virtual memory between the physical hard disks you have.

  1. In the Minimum: and Maximum: box, enter 3x the amount of physical memory you have. For example, if your system has 1024MB (or 1 GB) of DDR RAM, enter 3072 into both boxes. When Windows is allowed to manage the paging file on it's own, it is constantly adjusting the size, decreasing your system's performance. These changes will set the paging file to it's maximum recommended size permanently. This also prevents the paging file from becoming fragmented.

  1. Click Set to put the new settings into effect, then click OK and restart your computer to finish.

The amount of hard drive space you allocate for virtual memory is important. If you allocate too little, you will get "Out of Memory" errors. If you find that you need to keep increasing the size of the virtual memory, you probably are also finding that your system is sluggish and accesses the hard drive constantly. In that case, you should consider buying more RAM to keep the ratio between RAM and virtual memory about 3:1. Some applications enjoy having lots of virtual memory space but do not access it very much. In that case, large paging files work well.

Another factor in the performance of virtual memory is the location of the pagefile. If your system has multiple physical hard drives (not multiple drive letters, but actual drives), you can spread the work among them by making smaller pagefiles on each drive. This simple modification will significantly speed up any system that makes heavy use of virtual memory.

Windows XP Optimization Tweaks - Part 1

A customer asks: My new Dell computer is really slow. The other article on turning off programs (How to Disable Auto-Start Applications on Startup) helped a lot, but is there anything else I can do?

My answer: YES! As a computer and network technician, I have visited many clients who wanted me to fix a certain issue that had nothing to do with the speed and 'pep' of their system. As we sat together waiting (for quite a while) for screens to load, programs to open, and things to download, I would always ask, "Would you like your system to work faster than it does?". The answer was always a resounding 'YES!'.

After performing a few simple tweaks, their PCs spring to life and you can literally hear squeals of delight as pages pop up, browsers display information as they should (unless you are on dial-up, that always takes longer), and programs launch right away!

Tip #1: Turn Off The Eye Candy!

Some of the visual effects are nice to have and don't negatively impact your performance. Removing them can drastically speed up your computer!
  • Show Window Contents While Dragging
  • Smooth Edges of Screen Fonts
  • Use Drop Shadows for Icon Labels on Desktop
  • Show Translucent Selection Triangle
  • You will have to wait a few seconds while the changes take effect. As soon as they do, you will notice a significant increase in your PC's performance.

Tip #2: Disable Unnecessary Services!

Windows XP comes with so many features and services that it's hard to know what to leave turned on and what to turn off. This totally depends on your level of familiarity and comfort with the OS. Power users will want to use more of these services than, let's say, our grandmother who just wants to get on the computer to use Microsoft Word and check some emails from the grandkids.

In no particular order, here are the Windows XP resource hogs to disable:
  • Hibernation- This feature sounds good in theory, but only if you are using a laptop. I have had many people bemoan the fact that Hibernation just locked up their systems and took up quite a bit of space.
  • Indexing Service- This is Windows XP's way of speeding up your searches on the hard drive. It's handy if you are running frequent searches using the Search function, but at the cost of a huge hit on your system resources.
  • System Restore- This is a good feature to use if you tend to download a lot of stuff that could compromise the computer, or if you have children or teens that like to download a lot of stuff. If you tend to be the only one who uses it and are relatively careful, you will most likely never have to use this feature. It takes up a lot of room on your hard drive, so turn it off to get more of a performance boost.
  • Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop- These two features almost never get used by Windows XP users. Turning these off has a dual benefit: increased performance and extra security that prevents people from accessing your computer remotely.
In Part 2 of this article, you will defragment your hard drive, download some broadband internet tweaks to speed up your connection, and learn how to fix your registry in case of any truly sticky situations.

Make these simple changes and watch XP spring to life!

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