Low Memory, Sluggish Computer (and brain)?
Yesterday I forgot where I left my phone and car keys. Perhaps if my brain had more free memory available, I would have remembered that I set them down on a messy tool bench, while searching for 1-inch screws to fix the front porch door, and umm, what was that other thing I had to do? Like your brain, a computer works better when there's plenty of memory available to process information and multi-task. 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.
“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.
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 have a web browser open, it’s almost certain that it will be one of your biggest memory hogs, with multiple instances of chrome.exe (Google Chrome), msedge.exe (Microsoft Edge), or firefox.exe (Mozilla Firefox) running. Closing tabs and windows will reduce total RAM consumption. Also, in your Chrome or Edge Settings, you might disable “Continue running background apps when closed” if you are very low on RAM memory.
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.
Out of curiosity, I used the new Microsoft Edge to replicate what I was doing this morning in the Chrome browser. After opening the same 6 tabs spread across two windows, I noted that the amount of RAM memory in use with Edge was about two-thirds what Google Chrome was using. In fairness, I'd had Chrome running for several days, and Edge for just a few minutes. Edge and Chrome both use the same Chromium codebase, so the results were surprising. (The Shift-Esc combo to open the browser Task Manager also works in Edge.)
If you run this test with Firefox and Chrome, I'd be interested in your results. 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,or when a file in use is closed. 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.
Here’s one closing thought about memory and multi-tasking in humans. According to numerous studies of how the brain works, we carbon-based humans really are not suited for multi-tasking. In fact, we can’t really do it at all. This writer in Psychology Today says “when you attempt to multi-task you actually end up taking 40 percent longer to finish then you would be giving one task your complete attention at a time. That or you end up dropping the ball.” Try making a list of everything you need to do, and work on them one at a time. Give your computer plenty of memory and let it do the multi-tasking.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below…
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 28 Jun 2021
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Low Memory, Sluggish Computer (and brain)? (Posted: 28 Jun 2021)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved