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Windows Virtual Memory is too low--what's that all about?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / July 24, 2009 6:53 AM PDT

Windows Virtual Memory is too low--what's that all about?

Can anyone explain why I keep getting this message when first turning my computer on: "Windows Virtual Memory is too low--your system is low on virtual memory. Windows is increasing the size of your paging file. During this process requests for some applications may be denied. For more information see help." What causes this and is there something I can do to resolve this or is it an issue at all? Any help will be appreciated.

Submitted by: Marilyn H.

Here are some featured member answers to get you started, but
please read all the advice and suggestions that our
members have contributed to this question.

Simple steps go a long way --Submitted High Desert Charlie

Virtual memory --Submitted by jzou

Virtual memory issues --Submitted by Sporati

Too many start-up programs --Submitted by clap_clap

Multitasking and virtual memory --Submitted by paul_saute

Windows (really applies to most OSes) Virtual Memory --Submitted by zepper

If you have any adddition advice for Marilyn, please click on the reply link and submit your post. Please be as detailed as possible when submitting your solution or advice, the more details the better. Thanks!
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Low virtual memory
by Sailsounds / July 24, 2009 10:30 AM PDT

May be due to an overloaded (more than 50% used) hard drive. Try disk cleanup and defragmenting the drive. Perhaps moving some files off of the drive to cdrs or external drives.

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virtual memory
by jzou / July 24, 2009 11:13 AM PDT

In the most simplistic terms, virtual memory is using disk space to extend physical memory size.

Basically what the computer does is it takes a small chunk of your hard drive, and treat it as extra memory, in addition to the RAM chips already in your system.

Paging files is an index table for things that are stored in virtual memory, the bigger the file, the more you can store in virtual memory.

The possible causes are either a particular application of yours is a memory intensive program, or you have too much stuff on your hard drive, or you need to defrag your hard drive to clean it up.

As for the message you were getting "virtual mem too low...", you can either increase it, (there is a settings page where you can do it--more below), or clean up your hard drive, as the previous poster suggested, or find out the application that is using so much memory and remove it.

As for whether it is an issue of concern, that really depends on what worries you. Windows XP will automatically adjust your virtual memory size to accommodate the program's needs. But I usually increase it again anyways so I won't get any more such messages.

It won't crash your computer, wipe away all the data or suddenly teach your computer how to do a jig, but things might run a bit slower.

And could you provide some more detailed information about your system? OS, what programs you are running, RAM size, hard drive size, which service pack you are running, make and model of your machine?

How to increase your virtual memory size?
Follow my instructions at your own risk.
1. right click on my computers, click on properties
2. go to the advanced tab
3. under the performance section, there is a settings button, click it
4. go to the advanced tab
5. you will see three sections: processor scheduling, memory usage, and virtual memory
6. under virtual memory, there is another settings button, click it
7. under the section called "paging file size for selected drive"
8. you will see two fill in boxes that says initial size and maximum size.

As the name implies, initial size is how much of the hard drive is used to serve as memory at the very least, while the maximum is the limit of how much the hard drive is used to serve as memory at most.
Your get your error messages when that maximum limit is breached.

You can also select the system manage size option. I have never tried it.

9. leave the initial box box unchanged, for the maximum box, it has been recommended that you put double of whatever your RAM size is.

I don't know what yours are, so you will have to figure it out yourself.

But keep in mind there is no point to making it too big, law of diminishing returns and all that stuff. But just to give you an idea, my laptop has 40GB hard drive, and I put the maximum size to 1.5GB

Any questions?

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some additional stuff
by jzou / July 24, 2009 11:18 AM PDT
In reply to: virtual memory

Just to reiterate, follow my instructions at your own risk. I will not be held responsible if anything do go wrong. And as usual when changing system settings, back up your critical settings first.

and, my ram size is 1GB while my virtual mem size is 1.5GB. So I didn't exactly follow the "double your RAM size" recommendation. But then, I don't use my laptop for anything more intensive than typing my report.

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low virtual memory
by jford_1952 / July 26, 2009 2:01 AM PDT
In reply to: virtual memory

as jzou so expertly advised, the page file, which on older OS's up through Win2k caalled a swap file, where the ram commonly "swapped" data too the hard drive in order to deal with the newest ram request, I do know that if your hard drive free space is less that 15% virtual memory errors are common, without knowing your operating system and ram specifics it would all be specualtion, I have discovered some things in working on client computers that as jzou suggested, you can change the page file size, if your not technically oriented, I have had very good luck with simply setting it the "system managed size" and let windows use what it needs, or follow jzou's instructions for setting the size. If you only have 128 megs of ram and a say 40 gig hard drive, the easiest way to check how often the page file is being utilized is to watch your hard drive led, systems with insufficient RAM utilize the swap file continuously, just watching your hard drive activity when your not really doing anything that would seem memory intensive, and the hard drive is working continulously, its a great sigh you have insufficient ram, and a second problem I often run into is the start up programs, most non technical folks dont understand that when you have 30 applications (many not even visible)that start with windows, your ram is totally occupied and its at start up that this would likely occur, if your not technically proficient you can check the start up programs by getting up the "run" command assuming you have xp or newer, and type "msconfig" w/o quotations, enter, and a box with several tabs will appear, you should NOT look at any other tabs than the start up tab, there you will see all the various applications starting up, many are simply hidden apps that are auto updaters for programs like realplayer, adobe acrobat reader and and many more that simply dont need to be there and I have personally worked on client computers where that was exactly the problem for xp home and newer with insufficient ram, now as I said and jzou said, if your not technically proficient, dont alter any of these settings without direct

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Paging and swapping are the same thing
by Olifrench / August 8, 2009 1:53 AM PDT
In reply to: low virtual memory

and that's also called virtual memory (I would also refrain from using VM in this context as VM is mostly used for Virtual Machine these days and it could be confusing).

The 15% of the hard disk space rule is wrong. You certainly don't need 15% of a 500Gig disk for virtual memory!

Also there is no law of diminishing returns for the size of the paging file.

1) put the paging/virtual memory file on your fastest and less used disk

2) make sure the file doesn't get fragmented by giving it a fixed size (remove it, defragment the disk, re-create it with minimum = maximum)

3) Make sure the size is big enough for your needs. 2 times your physical memory? It depends on your needs and how much memory you have. Say that you usually need up to 6GB when using your computer. If you have 1GB installed you need another 5GB of disk to be able to work. That's 5 times the memory. However if you have 3.5 GB you only need an extra 2.5, less than 2 times the memory you have (71% extra).

Yes, if you have an older system with little memory, 1/8 Gig (128MB) and a small 40GB disk, 15% of the disk is 6GB and you may need more than that in virtual memory if you overload your system.

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virtual memory
by duststar / August 4, 2009 7:02 AM PDT
In reply to: virtual memory

I followed your directions but under my performance options there is no setting button. It says "change" should I click that?

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by jzou / August 4, 2009 2:05 PM PDT
In reply to: virtual memory

Just to confirm, you should see three sections: Performance, User Profile, and Startup and Recovery.

There should also be two buttons below the three sections: Enviromental variables and Error Reporting.

If you can confirm that, then you are probably at the right screen, click on it and let me know what you see.

Rest assured that simply clicking on a change button won't actually make any weird system changes.

Most likely you have a slightly different version XP or something to that effect, so they might have named things a bit differently.

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Excellent answer!
by PsychGen / August 7, 2009 1:28 PM PDT
In reply to: virtual memory


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Windows Virtual Memory is too low--what's that all about?
by vattan2005 / August 7, 2009 2:53 PM PDT
In reply to: virtual memory

Ooopsie! Okay, I just discovered I had manually changed these a long time ago and was surprised that I had set it to THREE times the memory. Would this cause a problem???

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To much?
by Alain Martel1 / August 8, 2009 2:09 AM PDT

No, setting the virtual memory to large can't cause a low memory isue.

The only thing it can cause, is a waste of disk space.
Assuming that you have a 32 bits OS.
There is no point having the actual RAM amouns PLUS the maximum virtual memory to a value larger than 4096Mb (4Gb), as it's the absolute upper limit of the memory that your system can access.

If you have 4Gb of RAM, you don't need to use virtual memory.

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Too much?
by Olifrench / August 8, 2009 4:25 AM PDT
In reply to: To much?

"If you have 4Gb of RAM, you don't need to use virtual memory."

I don't think this is the case. I have 4GB of RAM in my 32-bit Vista and I believe my 4975MB paging file gets used. 4975 shows as the recommended size, minimum recommended 16MB.

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Get CC cleaner from CNET
by RD1956 / July 24, 2009 11:15 AM PDT

Usually it a program that has attached to your registry that gives that error in hopes you will buy their registry cleaner. Download CC cleaner from CNET it's freeware. It will clean your system for nothing' Plus get rid of the registry bug.

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registry bug?
by jzou / July 24, 2009 11:22 AM PDT

how do you know it is a registry error and not something else when you have no access to the original poster's computer information?

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Registry Bug
by gysgtusmc74 / July 25, 2009 1:09 AM PDT
In reply to: registry bug?

good question.........never seen that problem before.........i have troubleshooted many a computer and have never seen a low memory problem caused by a rogue registry cleaner trying to get you to buy........all the suggestions to increase the physical ram or increase the page file are 99% spot on.

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XP: Windows Virtual Memory is too Low
by parrotluver1 / July 26, 2009 12:56 AM PDT

Parrotluver Says: USING any registry cleaners is very Risky and really not a Great Idea!
Especially for A Novice! IF you don,t know what your doing you can Really mess up your p.c BADLY! Many experts say not to use them at all!

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(NT) Agreed!
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / August 7, 2009 5:48 AM PDT
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Multitasking and virtual memory
by paul_saute / July 24, 2009 11:25 AM PDT

The answer is rather technical. Multitasking is the ability of the computer to run more than one program at a time. But even if if the computer is running more than one program, basically YOU only use one at a time without closing the others (E-mail and IE and maybe Word or Wordpad).

Paging is a technique where the operating system (OS) keeps track of the files/ressources it requires to run the open programs you use. When you go from one program to another, the OS swaps the files from the random access memory (RAM) to the virtual computer memory and back.

Here's what Microsoft has to say (THIS APPLIES TO VISTA):

What is virtual memory?

If your computer lacks the random access memory (RAM) needed to run a program or operation, Windows uses virtual memory to compensate.
Virtual memory combines your computer?s RAM with temporary space on your hard disk. When RAM runs low, virtual memory moves data from RAM to a space called a paging file. Moving data to and from the paging file frees up RAM to complete its work.

The more RAM your computer has, the faster your programs will generally run. If a lack of RAM is slowing your computer, you might be tempted to increase virtual memory to compensate. However, your computer can read data from RAM much more quickly than from a hard disk, so adding RAM is a better solution.
Virtual memory and error messages

If you receive error messages that warn of low virtual memory, you need to either add more RAM or increase the size of your paging file so that you can run the programs on your computer. Windows usually manages the size automatically, but you can manually change the size of virtual memory if the default size is not enough for your needs. For more information, see Change the size of virtual memory.

Change the size of virtual memory

If you receive warnings that your virtual memory is low, you'll need to increase the minimum size of your paging file. Windows sets the initial minimum size of the paging file at the amount of random access memory (RAM) installed on your computer plus 300 megabytes (MB), and the maximum size at 3 times the amount of RAM installed on your computer. If you see warnings at these recommended levels, then increase the minimum and maximum sizes.

1. Open System by clicking the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Maintenance, and then clicking System.

2. In the left pane, click Advanced system settings. If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

3. On the Advanced tab, under Performance, click Settings.

4. Click the Advanced tab, and then, under Virtual memory, click Change.

5. Clear the Automatically manage paging file size for all drives check box.

6. Under Drive [Volume Label], click the drive that contains the paging file you want to change.

7. Click Custom size, type a new size in megabytes in the Initial size (MB) or Maximum size (MB) box, click Set, and then click OK.

Increases in size usually don't require a restart, but if you decrease the size, you'll need to restart your computer for the changes to take effect. We recommend that you don't disable or delete the paging file.

Message was edited by: admin added a missing word for author.

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Good advice, generally..
by JCitizen / September 16, 2009 5:06 PM PDT

I ask my clients how long do they want their hard drive to last? Depending on their answer I may recommend a RAM increase, unless they happen to own expensive RAM. If they have hard drive intensive work, and no money for RAM, but can afford a new drive. I recommend a new add-on drive. Not to put a paging file on, but because the constant paging usually wears out the drive early, and they can at least have the important files on the new drive.

My clients don't usually need the performance gain from putting a paging file on the new drive. They need a drive that will last!!! That way when the old drive goes bust; NO problem! Either take the new (usually bigger) drive and partition it for the OS and continue placing files in a safe partition. Or buy yet another drive to put the important files on again!!

More often or not the newer drive is cheaper than RAM, most folks are out of luck on that kind of situation!

I've had better luck letting Windows adjust the settings, and re-adjust the hardware for longevity. I've got clients on the same PC going on 10 years now, with no probems on the target PC.

I've also tried the A+ way suggested on these forums for my own PC, and it always ended up being to dynamic a problem to simply use those hacks! Once I went to DVD authoring and compiling huge video files, Windows ended up knowing best how to adjust. I used the same method for myself, buy maximum RAM and a 250Gb drive to put backup images on and other important files. For that old puter; it just seemed like dividing the work between two drives was WAY better!

Buying the RAM was bad for my pocket book as I had way expensive RAM, of course, just like my client's luck! But you can't run an XP machine online with less that 768Mbs, and really you need 1Gb unless you do almost nothing at all with the machine!

Over and over this formulae has worked for me and mine!

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Windows Virtual Memory is too low
by Jazzy_Gal / July 24, 2009 12:14 PM PDT

Hi, I had the same problem and learned that I had to stop most of my programs from starting up that took most of the memory.
The only program I left running is my Windows Defender.
Good luck.

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Stat-Up Programs
by LionsMike / July 25, 2009 2:28 AM PDT

I believe that the great number of programs which are starting up at boot are a lot of my problem.

I had hoped to find a way to start the computer without having those programs start. The computer is a Compaq with Compaq Windows rather than Microsoft windoews and I cannot find any hel for removimng programs from the start up.

Most of the programs are never used so I thought that removing them would free up lots of memory. I have gone into the Control Panel Add/Remove programs area and most of them are not on the list so cannot be removed throug the control panel.

I know that deleting programs is not advised but see little or no choice. Several of them cannot be deleted because the system will not allow me to delete them. (probably because the systray icon is in use.)

Short of formatting the hard drive, how do you get the crap out of the computer.

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start up programs
by jford_1952 / July 26, 2009 2:24 AM PDT
In reply to: Stat-Up Programs

Just google or even search here at zdnet for a small, free program that places an applet in your control panel where you easily remove unwanted start up entries, its called startupcpl.exe and I have used it without any problems in win2k, win xp home and pro, and vista, anything in the list of start up programs are generally safe to delete from startup as the program doesnt display essential windows start up items, I aquired this back in 2003, And have used it on literally hundreds of win2k and winxp home and pro, as well as server 2003 etc and it has been flawless just fyi

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by LionsMike / July 26, 2009 1:01 PM PDT
In reply to: start up programs

That sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

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by Randy Walter / July 28, 2009 7:31 AM PDT
In reply to: Stat-Up Programs

Hey, LionsMike:
I bought a Dell Inspiron 531 with VISTA Home Premium, 2G RAM, AMD processor and 250G hard drive. It did not perform very well and seemed kind of sluggish. I noticed that the OS was loaded with stuff that Dell wanted to sell or advertise (such as: dial-ups, virus protectors, etc.). I ran a regcleaner and fouled the whole thing up. So I reformatted the HD and reloaded VISTA from the Microsoft disks provided by Dell. Basically, this solved my performance problems due to the mere fact that most of the start-up programs were not reloaded. Then I went into the IE7 browser tools and disabled all the add-ons I could. Just keep Java, adobe, search helper and things like that. You do not need any tool bars as they throw a lot of overhead into the system. Just be sure to backup any files you want keep. Things such as pictures, documents, etc. to DVD, Delldatasafe or Carbonite as you will need to reload them after the reformat.

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HP Windows not MS Windows
by LionsMike / August 4, 2009 8:35 AM PDT
In reply to: Crapware

The machine with the problem is a Compaq/HP Presario.

It has the HP version of Windows. I always have trouble when I cross paths with Dell Windows, HP windows, Gateway Windows, or any other windows other than a genuine MS Windows. I start out by formatting the drive and installing a real MS Windows O/S.

My wife did not want me changing anything in her computer so now it full of all kinds of crap.

I recall in Win 98, WinME, and Win 2000 a box with check boxes to include or exclude programs from the startup. I have not been able to find it in Win XP. The systray on her computer has about 16 icons. most of the programs are not in the list on Add/Remove in the Control Panel.

CRAP is the perfect word to describe the situation, but the programs cannot be removed from Startup and cannot be uninstalled from the computer.

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HP, huh?
by Randy Walter / August 7, 2009 4:07 PM PDT

I am not familiar with HP stuff but you might try this:
click on the flag key (aka, the start key). Type in MSCONFIG and hit enter. If this works it will open a window called SYSTEM CONFIGURATION. Click on the STARTUP tab. On the left side there are check boxes. Uncheck the ones you don't want to execute at startup. Leave checked security programs such as virus protection and things like that. Also, check OS and IE programs for startup. Anything you want to use later will still available it will just take a little longer to begin executing.

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try running msconfig
by davidchance2000 / August 8, 2009 4:30 AM PDT
In reply to: Stat-Up Programs

click on start then run type msconfig go to the tab start up you can disable programs from starting when the computer starts

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Re: Windows virtual memory low
by ms liz / August 7, 2009 3:03 PM PDT

My computer lost a lot of memory. I dont know why. My son in law installed two STICKS of new memory into the drive. It took him about 3 seconds. My computer works FINE now. It was very cheap. $30 at Frys electronics. Better than buying a new computer.

I use several free programs for cleaning up.

1. I.E. Privacy
2. Norton (I purge it and run it frequently for virus protection)
3. Ad-Aware
4. Tools - Delete browsing history
5. Advanced registry cleaner Lava soft. Free program

But buying 2 sticks of new memory helped the MOST.

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You may actually want (need) some start up programmes
by gbswales1 / August 7, 2009 9:16 PM PDT

Several posts here have suggested removing all start up programmes and then selecting just your anti-virus programmes to run. Personally I think this is a little simplistic and will leave people wondering why some things have stopped working - I agree that these things are not essential on every system but - I certainly consider them to be so

Others may simply make it easier to do things without going through multiple steps each time you do something

my essentials are:-

-Symantec anti-virus client
-Spybot Search and Destroy
-Super anti-spyware
(these are my anti-virus two spyware protection utilities - ok I am cautious but I spend a lot of time online)
-Display fusion - this organises my dual displays better than windows does (seperate desktop images, menu bar on second display etc)
-Seagate back up utitly (which backs up my hard drive each night)
-Logmein client - I constantly use this to connect to my computer when I am somewhere else
-Rocket dock (a system luxury I know!) but I love the way it clears at least one of my desktops and makes finding the most important programes easier - oh and it is soooo pretty!

You could argue that most of these are not essential - but they are to me working the way I want to - we should not really have to adapt the way we work to suit windows!

I only occasionally see virtual memory issues - usually when I have about 10 browser windows open at the same time as running other programmes and having a virtual connection to my office open! - but that is how I like to work and so look for ways to make my system adapt to the way I work not the other way around! To keep my main hard drive fairly free with space I have two internal 1tb drives (these are cheap now) and for protection have two external backup drives totalling 1.5tb and have 2gb of ram running windows xp pro

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Display Fusion or not
by Olifrench / August 8, 2009 1:26 AM PDT

Windows allow you to have the task bar on the second screen instead of the first one. Just drag it to the edge of the first screen then to the edge of the second, then to the bottom of the second (if that's where you want it).

You can also have different wallpapers without running anything else but it's a bit more tricky: you need to make a picture of the right size and then tile it.

I don't know about the etc, though Happy

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memory problem
by hah13 / July 24, 2009 12:42 PM PDT

check your (c) temp folder and see if there is anything you can delete...also check what programs you are running maybe some are old or duplicated

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