Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Boost Windows XP Performance by Optimizing Memory Use

Originally, I wanted to use the title “Memory Confusion;” however, I felt it would confuse people – no pun intended. There are several ways to optimize Windows XP performance. In this post, I want to talk about one of them, namely optimizing the memory.


Windows XP uses 2 types of memory and they are the physical memory (i.e. RAM) and the virtual memory (i.e. paging file). Most people are familiar with the former but not the latter. Loading any program or file requires memory. Oftentimes, the amount of RAM is insufficient. Windows XP’s solution to the problem is to convert a portion of the hard drive (i.e. ROM) to act like RAM. This is the virtual memory (a.k.a. paging file). Now, this is very important, the physical memory works much faster than the virtual memory. So, the key to optimizing memory use is to use up all the RAM before resorting to using the virtual memory.

Below, I illustrate several ways to optimize memory use. Some ways are straightforward while others are not so straightforward. As always, create a system restore point before changing any of the settings. It will save you from a whole lot of grief if things go wrong.


  1. Keep Windows system core and drivers in RAM and not the virtual memory. If you have 512MB or more of RAM then this tweak will significantly boost performance. Follow these steps:

    • Start Menu > Run > type “regedit” (without the quotation marks) > [O.K.] (this will open Windows registry editor).

    • Scroll down to the following registry key: [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\ Control\Session Manager\Memory Management]

    • In the right side panel, right click any open space and choose New > DWORD value.” For the Name, enter "DisablePagingExecutive"(without the quotation marks) and set the Value to “1” (without the quotation marks). Next, on the menu bar, choose File > Exit. Reboot.

  2. Optimize the size of the paging file. As a rule, the size of the paging file should be 1.5x the amount of RAM. If you have 256 MB or less of RAM then set the size to 384 MB. If you have 512 MB or more of RAM then set the size to 512MB. If you have 1 GB or more of RAM then set the size to 768 MB. Some computer experts suggest if you have 1 GB or more of RAM then you can try setting the size to 0 (i.e. don’t use a paging file at all). Follow these steps to change the size of the paging file.

    • Use an account with administrative privileges.

    • Right click My Computer > Properties > Advanced > under “Performance,” click [Settings] > choose the “Advanced” tab > under “Virtual Memory,” click [Change].

    • Choose “Custom size” and set the “Initial size” and “Maximum size” to the same value.

    • Click [Set] > [O.K.]. Reboot.

  3. Set a fixed size for the paging file. Since the paging file is part of the hard drive, it can be fragmented like everything else stored on the drive. Therefore, for best performance, reduce fragmentation of the paging file. One way to accomplish this is to set a fixed size for the paging file. The steps to do so are mentioned above.

  4. Relocate the paging file to its own partition or drive. Since the contents of the paging file are always changing, fragmentation is unavoidable. However, you can increase performance if you relocate the paging file to its own partition or hard drive. Using a separate hard drive is better than creating a partition on the existing hard drive. Windows manages a hard drive with only one partition better than one with multiple partitions. Follow these steps to change the location of the paging file:

    • Right click My Computer > Properties > Advanced > under “Performance,” click [Settings] > choose the “Advanced” tab > under “Virtual Memory,” click [Change].

    • Under “Drive [Volume Label],” choose the partition or drive where you want to store the paging file > [O.K.]. Reboot.

  5. Defrag the paging file. There are a number of ways to defrag the paging file but I like to focus on only 2.

    • Defragging with SysInternal’s Page Defrag utility. You can download it at: (http://www.sysinternals.com/Utilities/PageDefrag.html). The website has instructions on how to use the utility. My recommendation is to use the “defrag at next reboot” option. There is no need to defrag after every reboot.

    • An alternative way to defrag the paging file is to use Windows’ Disk Defragmenter. First, you need to set the size of the paging file to “0.” Follow the direction mentioned earlier to change the size of the paging file. Next, go to Start Menu > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter > click [Defragment] (ignore the alert which says there is no need to defrag). After the defrag, change the paging file back to its original size.

  6. Unloading the DLL cache. Even after exiting a program, Windows will keep some of its components in memory; this is called “DLL caching.” Why? Because if you later decide to start the program again then, with the components still in memory, it will load much faster. Now, this is great if you have RAM to spare but, if you have 256 MB or less, you are better off unloading the DLL cache. By unloading the cache, it will free up memory to open new programs and files - instead of using memory to store closed programs. Follow these steps for Windows to unload the DLL cache:

    • Go to Start Menu > Run > type “regedit” (without the quotation marks) > [O.K.]

    • Scroll down to the following registry key: [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer].

    • In the right panel, right click any open space and choose New > DWORD value.” For the Name, enter " AlwaysUnloadDLL"(without the quotation marks) and set the Value to “1” (without the quotation marks).

    • Next, on the menu bar, choose File > Exit. Reboot.


46 comments:

Andrew K said...

AlwaysUnloadDLL is a Myth on XP:

http://mywebpages.comcast.net/SupportCD/XPMyths.html

Larry Miller said...

It is true that Windows does not immediately unload DLL's. This was not a mistake but a carefully designed feature. The memory used by this is not wasted. If the memory is needed Windows is quite capable of unloading the DLL to make it available. This is a very quick and easy process that even Windows 95 could do. If the memory is not needed there is no rush in unloading the DLL.

In any event AlwaysUnloadDLL is not supported in Windows XP. Microsoft documents support was dropped in Windows 2000 and later.

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/196480/en-us


This registry value was originally intended as an aid to software developers, not as a performance tweak.

Larry Miler
Microsoft MCSA, Network+, A+

Anonymous said...

In addition:

If you have 512MB or more RAM the DisablePagingExecutive setting will do essentially nothing. With less it will generally impair performance.

Pagefile configuration:
In the large majority of cases the default configuration will be optimum, or as close as to make no difference. Forget the authors explanations, he is misinformed. His suggestions may very well impair performance - or worse.

Unless you have a very specific problem then leave these settings on default. To make intelligent changes you will need far more information than is in this article.

Larry Miller
Microsoft MCSA

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