Vista Performance - Memory Check

Reliability and Performance Monitor

XP's Performance Monitor, or "perfmon", has been boosted by a new summary screen and a longer name, 'Reliability and Performance Monitor'.  Tuning the operating system performance is a black art;  either stick with the basics where you look just at the superficial menus (explained below), or else undertake a long voyage to mastering the performance monitor counters.  Also, remember that detailed performance monitoring is more productive on a server than a desktop.  If a desktop machine only has 512 MB of RAM, whatever the counters say, the answer is always add more RAM.  Therefore bite the bullet, order that new stick of DDR2, and get on with the rest of your life.

Whether you are looking for a performance summary, or the low level detail, begin along this path:

Start Orb
Control Panel -->
System and Maintenance -->
Performance Information -->
Advanced Tools -->
Reliability and Performance Monitor.

As we are concerned with RAM and memory, let's focus on the 4th bar titled 'Memory'.

Hard Page faults / sec
20 is Guy's magic number.  If the hard page faults are continuously above 20 then this confirms a memory problem.  Other experts will say that above 5 is cause for concern.  Spikes are normal, and should be discounted when analysing any aspect of performance monitoring.

% Used Physical Memory
If Used Physical Memory is below 50% then you have sufficient RAM.  Consistent readings above 90% and you have a memory bottleneck.  For values in between, I would suspect shortage of memory, but would seek confirmation from other memory counters.

Performance Monitor (Perfmon)

The Performance Monitor (perfmon) found in other Windows operating systems, has now been moved inside Vista's Reliability Performance Monitor.  It is sufficiently hidden to encourage beginners to look at the summary sheet before tackling the Performance Monitor.  I have used Perfmon for years, and still regard it as a black art. There are so many counters that the data can be confusing, and you might be perplexed by what some of the included values mean.

A useful Memory counter
To help you through the maze of counters, this is how I would begin a disk analysis.  From the diagram on the right, click on the big green cross, scroll down to Memory then expand the selection (double click).  I suggest that you add the two counters: Pages/sec and Page Faults/sec.

Paging to disk is a bad idea, and thus a value is a clear indication of a memory bottleneck.

Memory: Pages / sec
Take care to distinguish between these two paging counters: 
1) Pages/sec (Hard page faults)
2) Page Faults/sec. This counter is likely to be at least twice the value of the above.

I would concentrate on 1) Pages/sec. I only mentioned Page Faults/sec to alert you that there are two counters with similar names. When pages/sec is above 20, then the machine is short of RAM. Ignore activity spikes and worry about long periods where paging is above 20.

You could also confirm your suspicions by adding the Paging File counter: % Usage. Hopefully Pages/sec and % Usage should show parallel increases/decreases.

How much RAM memory does Vista need?

The simple answer is that in Vista 512 MB of RAM is not enough memory to enjoy your programs. 1 GB is adequate, and enables you to run Aero Graphics, while 2 GB hits the sweet spot.

There are persistent rumors that Vista does not recognise more than 2.75 GB of RAM, (or 3.5 GB, depending on which blog that read).  I have not got to the bottom of this claim, partly because it may only apply to certain configurations.  However, the main message is that you are likely to get diminishing returns from increasing RAM memory beyond 2 GB.

ReadyBoost - A new way of adding RAM Memory in Vista.

With Windows ReadyBoost you can increase the amount of system memory available through the use of a Readyboost-enabled USB flash drive.

ReadyBoost is a built-in service which comes with all editions of Vista.  What it does is manage the ultra fast pagefile on the RAM stick.  If you like inspecting the system configuration, try this: Click on the Start Orb, in the Start Search dialog box type, 'Services'.  After the MMC launches, check that ReadyBoost's Startup Type is : Automatic.

What controls the ReadyBoost host service is a .dll called emdmgmt.dll, you can find it amongst the other dll’s under the %SystemRoot%\System32\.  Vista also employs a disk volume driver stored at: %SystemRoot%\System32\Drivers\Ecache.sys.  Incidentally, references to EMD mean External Memory Disk, for example there is a registry key called EMDmgmt, which is sometimes needed to 'tweak' ReadyBoost settings.

XP does not have ReadyBoost; therefore to the only way to increase RAM in XP is to get out the screwdriver, undo the case, and then add the delicate RAM stick.  Vista's method of inserting the enabled flash drive into the USB port is much easier.  Pushing in a RAM stick is also safer because taking the covers off the system unit risks discharging static electricity through some vital motherboard components.

Once you plug in the USB stick, Vista is likely to display a confirmation message in the Navigation Area (Systray).  To configure the ReadyBoost settings, open Windows Explorer and select the Flash Drive.  Either go straight to the ReadyBoost tab (see diagram), or else click on the General tab and select 'Speed up my system'.  Naturally, make sure that the radio button is opposite, 'Use this device'.

The extra memory comes at the expense of disk space for storing data files. Thus you need to adjust the slider to trade off memory (system speed) and traditional file storage.

ReadyBoost Limitations and Recommendations

The best ratio of system RAM to flash USB RAM is 1:1.  Once you have twice as much flash USB RAM as system RAM, performance starts to drop. 

From my testing, and from internet research, it seems that it's possible to install only one ReadyBoost device (USB RAM key) per machine.

No, you cannot use a spare MP3 player for ReadyBoost.  This is because the disk reading technology for the operating system is incompatible with that of the MP3 player.

Pagefile also called Swap File

When Vista runs out of address space in physical RAM it looks for substitute space on the hard drive.  Swapping memory addresses to disk is not a desirable goal in itself, more a necessary evil.  Hence installing 2 GB of RAM is a much better option. 

To check your Pagefile

Control Panel --> System and Maintenance --> System,
Advanced System Settings (Link), Settings (Button) Advanced (Tab).  N.B. If stuck call for Vista's help.

A normal size for the Pagefile would 1 or 1.5 times the amount of Physical RAM.

In summary, the best thing that you can do about the Pagefile is avoid it.  If you must have one then position it on the second physical disk where it is not in contention with the operating system. If all else fails, then accept that a Pagefile of about 800 MB may be of some use if you have only have 512 MB of RAM.

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15 comments
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  • Caffeinecarl
    Shouldn't this be labeled as a Windows 7 article or is it something that got stuffed away somewhere and never released?
  • yeah this is about 2 years too late! Is anyone actually running Vista with 512MB RAM?
  • matt87_50
    what the hell is vista?? win7 all the way!
  • evongugg
    Using flash memory for ReadyBoost is not a good idea IMHO.
    Flash memory is slow. If you want performance, it is better to increase the RAM if possible.
  • Tomsguiderachel
    Guys--this is definitely not a Windows 7 article. A lot of people are still suffering with Vista! They need some help.
  • This article is BS. Vista needs 2 GIGS MINIMUM, running with 1 gig is only for folks using it as a word processor and email system. Everybody else needs 2 gigs minimum to not have stalls or bottlenecks. Where is this geek getting his information for OCT 2009 article?

    Also, your system can't utilize more than 3 gigs for a single ap with a 32 bit install of VISTA, all 64 bit installs can accomodate loads more ram per application. So for 32 bit systems don't install more than 4 gigs of ram. I say 4 gigs because most ram kits are sweet spot priced to move 4 gigs not 3 gigs, and in the next year or two many more programs will be dependent on the OS allowing a single app access to more than 2 or 3 gigs of ram.
  • sixbone
    is guy on crack? he recommends free IP SLA Monitor as a tool to speed up vista, how does the ping time to some random cisco router help speeding up vista. if the clueless 512meg of ram having vista retard can figure out how to use IP SLA Monitor, then i doubt they would be dumb enough to have 512 meg of ram in thier vista box anyway and wouldn't need the tool anyway.
  • False_Dmitry_II
    Also flash drives aren't anywhere near as fast as RAM. You'd better have a damn good one to bother with readyboost. Even then, USB 2.0 limited.
  • Luscious
    I'm surprised Tom's even bothered with such a poor article. Almost every notebook sold in the last 12 months has been installed with Vista 64 and offered with 4GB ram. The fact that the author even fails to acknowledge the differences between a 32bit and 64bit OS in his discussion of memory usage shows very poor grasp of technology. This is hardly an attempt to
  • Luscious
    ...provide knowledgeable info to Tom's readers.

    BTW: Please get a d@mn edit button for these posts, so that I don't get a half-completed comment submitted when I leave the page.

    And when will we get our avatars back?
  • omg... please read the article if you are going to cry about it. The author stated it would be far batter to add more ram than to use readyboost, that's why the readyboost part was added at the end.
    Sixbone: I just worked on a vista machine with 512 ram. It was an old dude who thought his computer was hot stuff. I told him his P4 with 512 was not sufficient to run his desired programs, he had a cow when I recommended he get another stick.
    Jaydice: I've utilized 3.5 Gigs in my 32-bit install.. >_>
  • BlueCat57
    The article seems to be very out of date.

    Some things that appear to be missing:

    1. You can use memory cards for ReadyBoost. I use an SD card. Not sure if it really helps. How can you benchmark it?

    2. IE8 (yes, that's what I use) seems to FUBAR the system. Other than changing to a different browser is there a way to improve performance while using IE8?
  • silverblue
    "Manger" :P
  • Dan Dar3
    "Physical Memory (on the Performance tab)
    Free memory = Low is OK. (This is a new counter in Vista's Task Manger)

    Free memory is usually below 50 MB because Vista uses most of the available memory for the cache (see above)".

    Aw! that's not new, but that's not the point. It's not Vista taking most of the memory, it's the SuperFetch service in Vista. Some people might want to try stopping it if they feel it's trashing their disks (especially in lower powered netbooks/notebooks).
  • coltnrg
    lol 512 ram on vista ya youl have to rune lowest visual settings it will look like plane windows xp and you can rune notepad thats about it lol