Virtual Memory Errors

What is Virtual Memory?

Virtual memory is extra "virtual" RAM that Windows XP creates by turning some of your hard drive storage space into a buffer of "virtual" memory that programs can access when not enough physical RAM is available or when a program is specifically designed to use virtual memory to improve efficiency. With Windows XP, virtual memory is almost always in use during regular computer operation as typically only the core Windows system files have straight-through access to the physical RAM installed in your computer.

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What Causes Virtual Memory, Page File and Out of Memory Errors?

"Out of memory" errors are the most common symptom of problems with the Windows virtual memory system. When trying to start an application, you may also receive an error message indicating your "virtual memory is too low".

The cause of these errors could be:

  • Keeping your Windows page file's maximum size to small. This can cause Windows to "hit the ceiling" when loading a program. Sometimes users feel they have a large amount of physical RAM memory and don't need to set up a large page file. This is often not the case though and errors can result.
  • During an improper shutdown, your page file can be corrupted leading to errors as well. It's always a best practice to properly shut down Windows via the operating system as opposed to just hitting the power button.
  • To remedy a corrupted page file, simply select "no page file" in the advanced system properties under "performance". Then do a search of your computer for the "pagefile.sys" file. Drag it to the recycle bin. Reboot your computer and go back into this area to create a new page file. This will create an entirely new, non-corrupt page file.

You can access page file and virtual memory area of Windows by right-clicking on My Computer, selecting properties and clicking on the 'advanced' tab. Then click the Performance button. Under 'virtual memory', click 'change' set the page file to the recommended maximum size.

How Big Should Your Page File Be?

Even if you have a large amount of RAM installed in your PC, setting your page file to the "Recommended" maximum size is best for most users. This will allow you to avoid 'out of memory' and 'low virtual memory' errors in most cases. Occasionally, your hard drive is so low on free space, Windows XP doesn't have enough wiggle room to create virtual memory for use when loading programs etc... In this case, running a disk cleanup (by right clicking on your hard drive in My Computer, and select 'Tools' disk cleanup) will make enough room available to get rid of the errors.