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Vista Performance - Memory Check

Vista Performance - Memory Check

Before we begin checking memory on your Windows Vista machine, the question "What action are you prepared to take?" begs to be asked. Would you be willing to buy more system RAM? Or invest in a USB RAM key? Alternatively, are you simply looking for zero-cost configuration changes?

For my part, I just wish to give you the benefit of my advice.  I also want to prepare you for the idea that changing Vista settings such as the Pagefile will only produce limited improvement results. However, buying some form of RAM is more likely to speed up your machine, especially if you are currently using only 512 MB.

Diagnosing Memory Performance in Vista

Classic symptoms of memory shortage

Speed is a major factor when it comes to RAM, or a lack thereof. The operating system is slow to initialize, everything about the startup sequence seems in slow motion compared with other machines, and when you launch applications, they are extremely slow when opening.  Any activity that results in reading or writing data to disk results in the program hanging.

True diagnosis - Not masking

As you analyze Vista's performance, beware of one problem masking another problem.  The classic example is slow file access.  What happens is slow disk reads and writes are mis-diagnosed as a disk problem; in reality, this is due to a shortage of RAM.  People have gone out and bought expensive hard drives or solid state drives when they should have invested in more RAM.

Another example, which particularly affects Vista, is one process hogging the processor and slowing down all the other applications.  Adding more memory to systems that already have 2 GB of RAM is not the best course of action.  Better would be to troubleshoot which program or driver is running out of control, and fix that problem.  When it comes to resource hogging, likely culprits may include rogue drivers from hardware designed for Windows XP, and antiquated anti-virus software trying to update its virus database.  For a solution, start with the Process tab in Task Manager, add sort the Images on the CPU column.

WEI (Windows Experience Index) - Find the weakest link

A good diagnosis will save you both effort and money, thus it's worth spending time finding out what, if anything, is wrong with your machine's performance. A good way to improve performance in Vista is to seek out and eliminate bottlenecks.  Begin with a trip to the Control Panel --> System and Maintenance --> Performance Information --> Check your Windows Experience Index.  Is your Memory (RAM) score less than 3?  Does a low WEI score correlate to the fact that you have less than 1 GB of RAM installed?

Think of your machine's performance as an oil pipeline.  Any constriction will reduce flow, thus removing the tightest constriction will produce the biggest increase in throughput.  Indeed Vista's WEI (Windows Experience Index) works on this principle, the final rating is based on the weakest link and not the average of the 5 readings.

Guy recommends: The Free IP SLA Monitor

The IP SLA Monitor offers so much more than just discovering network bottlenecks, the real joy is learning about router traffic. This free monitor effortlessly analyzes and displays the IP statistics.  The key to configuring this Monitor is selecting the data most relevant to your network, for example, ping echo, DNS resolution times, or HTTP statistics.  As a result of a few hours of investigation is that you can set alerts on key indicators, then get on with the rest of your job.

Task manager (Performance tab)

The Task manager is the forgotten tool when it comes to detecting why a machine is running slowly.  For our purpose the key is the Performance tab (not the default Applications tab).

As usual there are at least three ways to launch the Task Manager; my favorite method is the keyboard combination of: Ctrl, Shift and Esc, whereas the traditional method is right click the taskbar or Ctrl, Alt, Del then select 'Start Task Manger'.

Physical Memory (on the Performance tab)

Total = Amount of RAM installed in Kilobytes e.g. 2 GB will be about 2,097,000 KB.

Cached = The more the better! Typically, 1300 MB on a machine with 2000MB of RAM

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).  One amusing trick is to launch a few applications - any of the Microsoft Office suite programs would be suitable, take a reading for free memory.  Now close the programs and see free memory rise.  The interesting part is when you return to the machine 10 minutes later and observe how the cache gradually uses up that free memory.  If nothing much happens then try opening and closing programs a few more times.