How to Fix 'Low Virtual Memory' Errors
Recently I installed a game on a friend's computer and when we tried playing it, we got a message saying 'Your system is low on virtual memory.' Does that mean I need to buy more memory, or could it be a software error? Can you please help us fix this problem?
Are You Running Low on Virtual Memory?
When all of your computer's real physical memory (RAM) is in use, Windows will try to create virtual memory by grabbing a chunk of hard drive space and treating it like real memory.
Your software can't tell the difference between real and virtual memory, but you might because virtual memory access is much slower, due to the hard drive activity it requires.
If you encounter the low virtual memory error message, then you have used the maximum amount of real plus virtual memory that is supported on your system. Sometimes programs that crash or ones that are poorly designed will not return their working memory space to the operating system when they're done using it.
Other programs that need a large amount of memory to run may fail because Windows cannot "see" the available memory. In most cases, a shutdown and restart will resolve this problem.
Windows Knows Best, Usually
If you still see the dreaded "Your system is low on virtual memory" message then the first thing to do is make sure your computer is configured to allow Windows to automatically manage the virtual memory. To do so, follow these steps:
- Click Start, then open the Control Panel.
- Click Performance and Maintenance, and then click System.
- Click the Advanced tab.
- Under Performance, click Settings.
- Click the Advanced tab.
- Under Virtual memory, click Change.
- On Windows 7, check the "Automatically manage paging file size for all drives" box.
- On Windows XP, click the drive that contains the paging file (virtual memory) settings that you want to change. In almost every case, this will be your C: drive. Then click to select the "System managed size" option, then click Set.
When you allow Windows to manage your virtual memory, it should make the optimum amount of virtual memory available, by automatically shrinking or enlarging the paging file as needed.
If you continue to see the "low virtual memory" message, you can experiment with customized settings for the minumum and maximum page file sizes. Instead of selecting the option to let Windows manage the settings, select the Custom Size option. The default setting for minimum page file size is the amount of RAM you have installed, and the maximum size is three times that amount. If you have 2GB of RAM, those settings would initially be 2048 MB and 6144 MB. So you might try setting them to 4096 and 8192, restart, and see what happens.
If neither method solves the low virtual memory problem, there are a few more things you can try...
Eliminate Non-Essential Programs
Over time, we tend to accumulate a bit of clutter on a computer. My article "Making Windows XP Run Faster!" will show you how to keep your system updated, eliminate viruses and spyware, scrub the hard disk of unneeded files, slim down your startup selections, and eliminate unnecessary system services. All of these things will free up resources in your computer, making it run faster and more reliably.
Add RAM to Your System
It might just be the case that your computer needs more real, physical memory. By this I mean RAM sticks that can be purchased in most computer, electronics, or office supply stores. If your PC is more than three years old, chances are it's close to being obsolete -- at least in terms of the ability to run today's resource-hogging software packages. And adding RAM to an older computer is the most effective thing you can do to upgrade it.
To see how much memory you have installed, follow these steps under Windows XP:
On the System Properties window, you'll see the type and speed of your processor (CPU) and the amount of RAM. Note that Windows always seems to report that you have slightly less memory than you actually have. For example, if Windows reports 1.99 GB of RAM, you actually have 2 GB.
The more RAM you have, the better your computer will perform. I recommend you have a minimum 2 gigabytes (MB) of RAM, but more is better, up to a point. See my related article How Much Memory Do I Need? for my recommendations, and Memory Upgrade for help with the task of buying and installing new RAM memory.
Plan B: Recycle Your Computer
If popping the hood on your old PC sounds like too much trauma, consider buying a new one. Computer prices have dropped a lot over the past few years, and the computing power you get for your money is going up. My How to Buy a Computer article will guide you through the Windows vs. Mac issue, what kind of processor you need, and will give you recommendations on monitors and software.
Do you have something to say about the "low virtual memory" error? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 26 Aug 2011
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- How to Fix 'Low Virtual Memory' Errors (Posted: 26 Aug 2011)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved