Understanding Virtual Memory and RAM

We often get asked what virtual memory is, because it seems as if many people receive errors on their computers saying they do not have enough virtual memory to complete a task. I had someone write in the other day telling me that he was trying to play a game and it keeps cutting him off in the middle of it because his PC does not contain enough virtual memory to go on. That is just one example where this problem might show up.

To start off, here is an explanation from Steve about what exactly virtual memory is. You may have to read through it a couple times to understand the complexity of it, because it all can get sort of confusing.

Basically, virtual memory is non-physical memory (yeah, that helps, huh?)

Windows uses virtual memory when it doesn’t have enough “regular” physical memory to perform a task. When it does this, Windows uses your hard drive to store information that normally would be put into your RAM memory. RAM is short for random access memory. Its main job is to process the information within your computer. RAM is what is used to load all of those programs that start up on your computer each day. Here’s an overly simplified example.

Let’s say you have 32 meg of RAM available. Now, you load a program that takes up 20 meg and another that takes up 22 meg. You need a total of 42 meg, but you only have 32 meg of actual RAM memory. However, both programs still run. What’s happening?

Windows is using 10 meg of hard drive space to supplement your physical 32 meg of RAM (don’t worry, this 10 meg will be erased once Windows is done with it).

I know what you’re thinking. Why bother to add extra RAM to my computer if it can use hard drive space instead? Main reason: RAM is much faster.

Whenever you’re using a lot of virtual memory, you’re slowing your computer down (way the heck down). The best work around is to get more physical memory. I recommend 64 to 128 meg, depending on how many programs you run simultaneously.

Oh, one more thing. If you don’t have a lot of hard drive space left (I recommend a minimum of 100 meg) and you’re experiencing lots of problems, lack of virtual memory may be why. When Windows runs out of memory (virtual and non-virtual), it just doesn’t run very well.

So, basically, if you want to have more virtual memory, you need to upgrade your computer with more RAM so there won’t be any crossover problems in the future. To tell how much RAM your computer already has, click on Start, Control Panel and choose the System link. (XP users need to click on Performance and Maintenance to get to the System icon). Click on the General tab and the amount of RAM you have on your PC will be listed there in the form of megabytes (MB).

Inside your computer, there are slots that have memory chips, which is where the RAM goes. Most computers come with only one slot filled. You should locate the manual that came with your PC to find out what type of RAM your computer needs and how much each slot can handle. Once you get new RAM, the chips just snap into the open slots on your computer’s motherboard. Your system will automatically know when you start using more RAM, so you don’t have to worry about configuring any of that.

(Image provided by cyberwalker.net)

There are different types of memory. EDO, FPM, SRAM, SODIMM, RDRAM, DRAM and VRAM. There is a maximum memory amount that your computer can hold and there’s also a standard amount, which is what your computer came with when you bought it. Like I said before, your PC manual will explain what type of memory your computer can take and how much it can handle, so make sure you refer back to that for any other questions you may have, since every computer is different.

So, now if you’re interested in upgrading your RAM, you can do a quick search on the Web to find places where it is available.

If you would just like to adjust your virtual memory instead of taking the plunge to upgrade your RAM, take a look at today’s Q&A tip up above.

~ Erin