The Explorer: Real-World Answers About Virtual Memory - InformationWeek
Software // Enterprise Applications
02:59 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
Ransomware: Latest Developments & How to Defend Against Them
Nov 01, 2017
Ransomware is one of the fastest growing types of malware, and new breeds that escalate quickly ar ...Read More>>

The Explorer: Real-World Answers About Virtual Memory

The previous System Setup Secrets column generated a boatload of responses and sparked some great questions-and-answers. But some of the follow-on topics were extremely complex and practically begged for a more in-depth discussion on their own: Windows' Virtual Memory was at the top of the list. That's what this column is about.

In that previous column, I said that you can go to "... My Computer, Properties, Performance, Virtual Memory, set virtual memory the way you want. In systems with abundant disk space, I place the swap file out of the way on the second partition, and set a minimum size equal to the amount of RAM, with no maximum size set."

Here's why: Virtual memory is a "swap file" on your hard drive that acts as an extension of your RAM. When Windows runs short of RAM, it uses the virtual memory space to free up RAM by temporarily moving -- swapping -- chunks of data temporarily to your hard drive until they're needed again.

On its own, Windows creates what's called a dynamic swap file: the file grows and shrinks as needed. (In fact, if your hard drive has ever suddenly come to life with a long burst of activity that has no apparent cause, it's probably Windows automatically adjusting the size of your swap file.)

Trouble is, growing and shrinking the swap file takes time and CPU cycles, and prevents your hard drive from doing anything else until the resizing is complete. And as a swap file grows, piecemeal, it can end up scattered in several locations across your hard drive. Combined, the extra housekeeping needed to monitor and manage the size of the file and the time lost in dealing with swap file fragments can make Windows seem sluggish.

Take Control Of Your Virtual Memory
One way to help overcome this is to manually set a generous minimum swap file size. This ensures you have plenty of virtual memory to start with, and that Windows won't have to waste time growing and shrinking the swap file with every app you run. Plus, if your swap file doesn't have to grow or shrink, it can be defragged once and then will tend to stay that way. With a large-enough, unfragmented (contiguous) swap file, Windows can spend its time using the swap file instead of managing it: Your system may operate noticeably faster -- especially if you use a defragger like Norton's Speed Disk that places the swap file at the front of your hard drive, for fastest access.

In systems with more than one physical hard drive, you also can manually assign the swap file to whichever drive is the fastest, further boosting performance (the swap file doesn't have to be on the drive that contains Windows). And on systems with more than one drive or partition, you also can move the swap file to a location where it won't be included in your routine backups; this can make your system backups go faster, and save space in your backup media. (The swap file doesn't need to be backed up, ever.)

That's all fine, but several readers wrote to say they either couldn't change their virtual memory settings (the option was grayed-out) or that the settings would not "stick" and would revert to the default settings on reboot.

1 of 2
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
[Interop ITX 2017] State Of DevOps Report
[Interop ITX 2017] State Of DevOps Report
The DevOps movement brings application development and infrastructure operations together to increase efficiency and deploy applications more quickly. But embracing DevOps means making significant cultural, organizational, and technological changes. This research report will examine how and why IT organizations are adopting DevOps methodologies, the effects on their staff and processes, and the tools they are utilizing for the best results.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2017 State of IT Report
In today's technology-driven world, "innovation" has become a basic expectation. IT leaders are tasked with making technical magic, improving customer experience, and boosting the bottom line -- yet often without any increase to the IT budget. How are organizations striking the balance between new initiatives and cost control? Download our report to learn about the biggest challenges and how savvy IT executives are overcoming them.
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll