Is Low Memory Slowing Down Your Computer?

Category: Memory

Yesterday I forgot where I left my keys. Perhaps if my brain had more free memory available, I would have remembered that I set them down on the tool bench in the basement. Like your brain, a computer works better when there's plenty of memory available to execute tasks and process information. So let’s see how we can address a low-memory situation before it becomes a real problem...

Where Has All My Memory Gone?

Let's try another analogy. Running low on RAM memory in your computer feels a lot like running low on gas in your car. The machine slows down dramatically; moves in starts and stops, jerkily; and eventually just stalls. Just as it’s best to heed the early warning signs of low gas, it’s easier to recover from the early stages of “low RAM” than from a complete lock-up of your computer. Here's a tool that will shed some light on how your computer is using the RAM memory available.

Windows has a built-in Resource Monitor app that can track RAM use, quantify the effect that low RAM is having on your system, and help you determine what is chewing up that valuable resource. To start the app, type “resmon” in the Start menu search box and double-click on the app in search results. Click on the “Memory” tab to display a busy screenful of information. (See image below)

In the right-hand sidebar are three real-time graphs of memory parameters. “Physical memory” refers to Random Access Memory (RAM), the solid-state memory on those little black chips you can replace to expand your system’s total RAM.

Windows RAM memory monitor

“Commit charge” is a cryptic term whose origin is lost in the misty dawn of the Windows era. Just think of it as the percentage of pagefile.sys that is being used at a given moment. (Pagefile.sys is a system file that reserves hard drive space to which data is temporarily moved from RAM to make room in RAM for other data that is needed immediately).

“Hard faults per second” is not as bad as it sounds, necessarily. It means the number of times per second that data is read from or written to the hard drive from RAM. A rate of 100 hard faults/second is no cause for alarm; a rate of 400 or more will probably be noticeable as a slowing of the system and the grinding sound of an overactive hard drive. Excessive hard faults per second lead to early drive failure at least; at worst, the system may lock up with its hard drive activity light on steadily.

In the grey "Physical Memory" bar in the middle of ResMon’s main window you can see how much RAM is in use and how much remains free. Above that bar is a table showing the many running processes that are using RAM. Here is where you can find out what, exactly, is chewing up a lot of RAM.

Resmon.exe - Windows Resource Monitor

Click on the label “Working Set” to sort the running processes by the amount of RAM that each uses. Click on the “Image” label to sort on the process names.

If you use the Chrome browser, it’s almost certain that it will be your biggest memory-hog, with multiple instances of chrome.exe running. Closing tabs and windows will reduce Chrome’s total RAM consumption. Also, in Chrome’s Settings, you might disable “Continue running background apps when Google Chrome is closed”. Just be aware that offline apps for Google Docs, Sheets, etc., may crash when you exit Chrome if “background apps” are disabled.

In many cases, adding additional RAM memory is one of the most cost-effective upgrades for a performance boost. See my article Will More Memory Speed Up Your Computer? to find out if adding RAM is a good idea for your computing needs.

Chrome has its own Task Manager, which gives a lot more detail on each of the Chrome tasks. Press Shift-Esc from the Chrome window, and the Task Manager will show you the name of each website, app, or extension that's active.

You could go down the list of processes in descending order of their RAM use, determining what each one does and whether it is safe to shut it down. (You can right-click an item, then select "End Process" to kill a running task.)

But few people have that much time, technical knowledge, or patience. Windows has a pretty good memory management system built right into it, so it’s unlikely that you are going to recover much more RAM by manual efforts. Just leave things be, except for the Chrome tweaks described above.

Oh, and for the sake of fairness, I used Internet Explorer to replicate what I was doing this morning in the Chrome browser. After opening the same 9 tabs spread across two windows, I noted that the amount of RAM memory in use with Internet Explorer and Google Chrome was almost the same. So the bottom line might be that ALL browsers are memory hogs.

Well-written software frees the RAM that was reserved for it and its data when it shuts down. Sketchy freeware may not be so well behaved. Look especially hard at such software to see if the amount of physical memory available after it shuts down is about the same as it was just before the software started. If a program is “leaking” RAM, replace it with better-behaved software.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Is Low Memory Slowing Down Your Computer?"

Posted by:

GuitarRebel
22 May 2018

I'm curious. If I disable “Continue running background apps when Google Chrome is closed” on my Chrome desktop app, will that be synced to my mobile Chrome app?
I don't use Google apps on my desktop, but I use plenty of them on my Android. I wouldn't want them to misbehave because of something I did on the desktop app.


Posted by:

Nicholas C Zales
22 May 2018

Does low RAM memory also slow down Android tablets and smart phones?


Posted by:

Howard Hadley
22 May 2018

Nicholas, yes low RAM certainly slows down my phone (1.5GB), but not my tablet (8GB). Problem is you can't add RAM to either one as it is soldered onto the motherboard. Same is true of some of today's cheap laptops.


Posted by:

BobD
22 May 2018

I use Windows 7

From a note in my computer journal file:

Sat 06/15/2013
Remove KB2670838 to get Resource Monitor running


Posted by:

RalphC
22 May 2018

I have Dell laptop that came with Win 8, and now runs 10. I use Firefox as my browser. I have 4 GB of RAM. Far too often FF stalls, with “FF is not responding”. Is this because there is not enough RAM? I looked at getting more RAM, but it is ~$200 for an 8 GB RAM chipset, so I want to be sure that this expense will fix the issue before spending the $$. Thanks for any input.


Posted by:

Denis
22 May 2018

I bought a cheap laptop with 2GB of RAM thinking that I could easily add more, being used to laptops that have a removable cover underneath which hides a spare RAM slot. Sadly the new cheap ones don't have this and there is a major dismantle and reassemble job to increase RAM.
My advice is do not buy a laptop with less than 4GB, even if used for only the most basic tasks.


Posted by:

Terry Hollett
23 May 2018

In my case on an Acer desktop, Windows 7, 4GB RAM, it's CPU spikes that slow down my system. Foe example, if I was watching a video in VLC, and opened a web page, while the page is opening the video will get blocky and freeze up until the page fully loads. But it's not just my browser that has this effect. Background monitoring shows that CPU spikes is responsible not memory. Multitasking has become a real pain.


Posted by:

Steven Anne Horn
23 May 2018

When I bought my HP desktop PC in 2004, I made sure that it had 8 Gb RAM installed and have never regretted doing that. If I thought the PC needed more, I have another 4 slots available for expansion. My Acer laptop also has 8 Gb of RAM installed. The moral? The more RAM, the better!


Posted by:

MmeMoxie
23 May 2018

Nice article on Resource Monitor. It can be a very useful tool, to help identify where your memory is going. It also, can point to the need for more memory.


Now, in regards to memory. . .It is imperative that you have the right information about your motherboard. In other words, the schematic or the break-down of just how much memory can be used by your motherboard.


I have 8GB of RAM memory installed on my motherboard. My motherboard has 4 memory slots, too. So, when I purchased this computer, it was being sold with 4GB of RAM memory. I requested that 4GBs more be added and paid for that addition.


So, I have 2GB memory modules in each of the 4 memory slots. Bottom line, I can NOT add anymore memory. However, should a module go bad. . .I can replace the bad one and one of the 2GB modules, with a 4GB memory module. I could even remove all of the 2GB modules and use only one 8GB module.


It is knowing how memory modules work on each motherboard and how to install them. Removing and installing is easy. The hard part is knowing what your motherboard requires for memory and knowing which memory slots to use. Trust me, once you learn how to do all of this, it really is a "piece of cake", as they say.


20 years ago, I purchased my first memory module and installed it on my computer's motherboard. I upgraded the memory on my computer. I must admit, I was mighty proud of what I learned and did. In fact, that simple act was the start of me becoming a "Geek" and building 12 computers, from scratch, plus many repairs for family and friends.

I am so glad that Bob did write this article. The Resource Monitor is not as well known as other parts of your computer. This does let you know, along with Task Manager. Both are excellent tools to use, in finding out where your RAM memory is used.


Posted by:

Tealeaf
28 May 2018

Doesn't Task Manager, accessed by Control-Alt-Delete
and then selecting Task Manager, work just as well in looking at this?


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