[SOLVED] The Out of Memory Error

Category: Memory

A reader asks: 'My computer is giving Out of Memory and Low Memory errors and I can't continue without restarting. Do I need to delete some files, get a new hard drive or is it something else?' Here's the solution to this common problem...

Out of Memory?

A number of different things can cause "out of memory" error messages. Lack of hard disk space is one of them, in some circumstances. But when your computer complains about not having enough memory, it's (almost always) referring to RAM -- the working memory that's installed on your computer's motherboard, not your hard drive. When you turn off your computer, everything in RAM memory goes away. Your hard drive is for permanent file storage.

If you open a lot of programs at once, you may run into an "out of memory" error caused by something Microsoft calls "the desktop heap limitation." Closing some of the open windows before retrying the program may help. But there's also a registry tweak that can eliminate the problem without having to pick and choose which programs remain open. See this Microsoft Support page for details and instructions on how to implement the fix.

Out of Memory error

Also, you may run out of memory because you just don't have enough memory installed. Remember, this means RAM, and has nothing to do with the space available on your hard drive. If you have less than 1 GB of RAM, you can expect "out of memory errors" often. For Windows XP, 4 GB of RAM is ideal. You'll need a 64-bit version of Windows 7, 8 or 10 to make use of more than 4 GB of RAM. On 64-bit Windows 7 or later, I recommend 8GB or more of RAM. (To find out how much RAM you have, and if you have a 32 or 64-bit system, click Start > Control Panel > System and Maintenance > System.)

Are you limping along with limited RAM memory? See my related article Do You Need More Memory? for help with the task of selecting and installing additional RAM memory in your desktop or laptop computer.

Even if you only use one program at a time, an "out of memory" error can be caused by a program that manages memory badly. If you encounter this error with one specific program, you might seek an alternative to it. Open the Windows Task Manager (press Ctrl-Shift-Esc) and click on the Processes tab to see which programs are using the most RAM memory. Clicking on the Mem Usage column header will sort the list for you.

It's not uncommon for web browsers to consume 500MB or even more than gigabyte of RAM memory. Firefox and Chrome seem to gobble up RAM like candy. Some programs just hold on to memory too long, or fail to free it for other applications. These are called "memory leaks" in software. Usually just closing down the offending program and restarting it will bring you back to good. Sometimes you'll need to restart your computer if things get too fouled up.

A handy Chrome extension called The Great Suspender will help if you often have several tabs open at once. This tool can reduce Chrome's memory needs by suspending tabs that you've not touched for a set period of time.

Here's Why I Said "Almost Always" ...

When your computer runs out of physical RAM, it can grab a chunk of hard drive storage and magically create virtual memory. Windows' virtual memory system temporarily stores data that won't fit into RAM in a hidden special file called pagefile.sys. By default, this file grows and shrinks as needed. If there is no free disk space anywhere, pagefile.sys can't expand and you could get an "out of memory" error.

So yes, you can try cleaning up your hard drive to see if that solves your "out of memory" problem, if none of the other remedies above have done the trick. (See my article How to Clean Up Your Hard Drive for some tips and how-to's.) If your hard drive space is critically low, you're probably seeing other error messages indicating that's the case. But it never hurts to tidy up your hard drive.

You can also run into problems if your settings prevent the automatic management of virtual memory. Instead of seeing "out of memory" errors, you might be getting "low virtual memory" errors. See my companion article How to Fix 'Low Virtual Memory' Errors for further instructions.

Your thoughts on the "out of memory" or "low memory" issues are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[SOLVED] The Out of Memory Error"

Posted by:

Dwayne Hunt
27 Mar 2017

Any reason that you didn't mention using Ready Boost on a USB drive? I understand that it does work!

Posted by:

27 Mar 2017

There's a tool within IObit's Advanced System Care (I know that not everyone thinks favorably about IObit) that allows you to 'sweep' your RAM and free up RAM. I've found it to be quite helpful.

Posted by:

David Quinn
27 Mar 2017

Good artical. I am not suffering with this problem but have done in the past.

Posted by:

27 Mar 2017

Awwww, the memory issue. Since a lot of us have upgraded to Window 10, I believe more RAM is needed than for the previous Windows.

For those who haven't a clue what to do, find a computer geek friend or take your PC to a good computer repair/upgrade business, like Bob Rankin's. I can fix most of my issues since I have built from scratch 12 computers. I have learned what to look for and how to fix it if it can be fixed.

Not being able to fix an issue happens a lot in computers. The technology of computers is expanding fast and when you buy a new computer, it is already obsolete. Sorry but that is the nature of computer technology and it always has been. So what is best for you? To find a good, solid computer that will meet your needs for a long time. My computer was originally produced in June or August of 2009. It is still going and does what I need it to do, for me.

I bought this PC in April 2013. It is still working and I haven't had any issues with it. I did upgrade the power supply from a 255W to a 305W so that I could install a Graphic Card. I got an EVG NVIDIA GeForce 210 [Display adapter] which needed only a 300W minimum power supply. It also has 3.15 gigahertz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 CPU. Must admit I have always preferred to use AMD CPUs when I built my 12 computers. However, I am becoming a real fan of Intel CPUs after using this PC.

You MUST always consider what the Motherboard will "hold" in Memory Modules. My motherboard will only take 8GB of RAM. When I got this desktop computer it had Windows 7 Pro 64Bit. As I said, the most RAM this motherboard will take is 8GB. It came with 4GB, so I upgraded it to 8GB. I got this PC as an Off Lease computer. It was "refurbished" or it was checked out completely to make sure it worked. I got this PC at a good price.

I don't do High-Resolution gaming but I do love Casual Gaming. This Graphic Card does fine for my needs. The rest of what I do with my PC is reading eMails, surfing the web, reading some of my Kindle E-books online and watching some of my movies that I have on VUDU on my PC.

I don't think I made a bad decision purchasing my PC. It has been working for 8 years and I will use it until it doesn't work anymore. }:O)

Posted by:

Terry Hollett
27 Mar 2017

I have had two Gateway laptops bought to me to fix giving memory errors. In both cases it turned out they where both overheating. Go figure.

Posted by:

John Stolte
27 Mar 2017

A computer infected with malware can often display out of memory errors. Cleaning it with a good tool like Malwarebytes can resolve those problems quite often.

Posted by:

Granville Alley
27 Mar 2017

Actually, web browsers or I should say abusive web sites empowered by web browsers that are designed not for efficiency but rather to facilitate web ads utilize more and more RAM daily.

Virtually all websites are throwing up multiple streaming video ads that no user is looking for, nor wants, nor if had a choice would allow to run. Each of these videos, many (most??) of which are never seen by any human being are in reality tools to steal money from advertisers and resources from website visitors.

This has become more and more pervasive day by day, week by week, month by month until today even with ad suppression software even well equipped computers are getting out of memory errors. I have both a i7 Windows 10 Computer with 32 GB of Ram (the maximum allowed by my motherboard) and a iMac 27" with an i7 running Mac OS also with 32 GB of Ram. Both machines have 1TB SSD Drives and both have more than 50% of that storage available.

I also have additional Internal drives in the PC and external drives connected to the Mac. I have the fastest fiber internet connection available in my area (2 lines at 100MBs each) connected through Gigabit Routers and the newest fastest WiFi on the market. My main PCs are connected through Gigabit wired connections.

I blame this on the greed of the OS Makers who continue to write operating system software that has so much of the granular control of things like memory hidden so far under the hood that unless you are writing software, apps or hooks into API's from browsers the user has little or no control over his system and its resources. This allows and encourages application software, app writers and web browser designers to grab as many resources as they can and abuses the user whose hardware they are effectively stealing.

Until an OS Maker returns granular control to users we will have no real recourse except to avoid the most abusive websites. But when the abuse becomes essentially universally pervasive then the user just is screwed until and unless someone decides it is in their economic best interest to protect their users' resources from being misappropriated and abused.

Until the computer press and experts acknowledge the severity of the problem and start reporting this honestly we will have no pressure on either the abusers or the OS and Browser makers that empower them to correct their course.

Posted by:

Granville Alley
27 Mar 2017

@Terry & John,

The same Web Site advertising that is using up your resources and memory also can cause your system to run hot. Although technically not "Malware" or even "PUPS" it is abusive to users and their systems and is stealing clock cycles, memory and performance. And when you have 15 Streaming Video's running in background and utilizing 32 GB of Ram constantly a system that is not optimized for extremely high performance will run hot.

Posted by:

Marge Teilhaber
27 Mar 2017

An easy way to get to the system page is windows key + pause break.

My go-to computer guys are not as available as they once were. Does anyone know someone fabulous who is close to the GWB in NJ? Just for me, not a business. My W7 64-bit desktop with 16 GB of RAM is going strong but won't last forever.

As usual, Bob, great stuff. Thank you!

Posted by:

28 Mar 2017

If you want to see a memory HOG, try iCloud Services !

I have found it using 1 or 2 Gb of RAM. Right now as I type it is using 487 Mb. I wish I wasn't "trapped" using an iPhone, but I don't feel like dumping the few apps I have purchased on my phone. I sorely wish I could get Apple off my PC.

I did get rid of iTunes (the worlds' most useless piece of software), but now synching via iCloud has corrupted my contacts, cloning about 50% of them three times over.

I have no idea why iCloud services should be using so much RAM or being so active because I have almost nothing stored on iCloud except Contacts.

Posted by:

29 Mar 2017

I often get this issue. If my laptop which has 8 gb ram is continuously open for few days and as inise lots of tabs in chrome i cme accross this issue. My laptop gets too slow. Going to process and killing all memory hungry programs does not help. I need to restart my laptop.
Any suggestions?

Posted by:

31 Mar 2017

Linux the great windows error fixer-upper :)

Posted by:

Ron lavi
20 Aug 2020

Hello Bob,
I have used MagicJack on several computer manufacturers at Windows 7 64bit(mostly) and 32bit. I always get the out of memory error message and have to reboot.
From Experience I know that some programmers don't clear temporary (lost) ram which accumulate the total .tmp files. It happens only in MagicJack. should I switch to a different system?

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