How Virtual Memory Works

Configuring Virtual Memory

Windows 98 is an example of a typical operating system that has virtual memory. Windows 98 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 do this, open the "Control Panel" window and double-click on the "System" icon. The system dialog window will open. Click on the "Performance" tab and then click on the "Virtual Memory" button.

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

In the "Minimum:" box, enter the smallest amount of hard drive space you wish to use for virtual memory on the hard disk specified. The amounts are in megabytes. For the "C:" drive, the minimum should be 2 megabytes. The "Maximum:" figure can be anything you like, but one possible upper limit is twice physical RAM space. Windows default is normally 12 megabytes above the amount of physical RAM in your computer. To put the new settings into effect, close the dialog box and restart your computer.

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 2:1. Some applications enjoy having lots of virtual memory space but do not access it very much. In that case, large paging files work well.

One trick that can improve the performance of virtual memory (especially when large amounts of virtual memory are needed) is to make the minimum and maximum sizes of the virtual memory file identical. This forces the operating system to allocate the entire paging file when you start the machine. That keeps the paging file from having to grow while programs are running, which improves performance. Many video applications recommend this technique to avoid pauses while reading or writing video information between hard disk and tape.

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.

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