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Can you boot w/ only virtual memory in your PC.

Posted on 2004-10-11
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Last Modified: 2010-04-26
Question:

Can you boot a PC using only it's virtual memory (and no RAM sticks) and please explain why or why not?
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Question by:pdoriley
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Expert Comment

by:Pete Long
ID: 12280163
No the computer would fail its POST (power on self test) that runs before the OS is loaded, it would just beep at you :(
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by:pdoriley
ID: 12280432
Why?
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by:pdoriley
ID: 12280449
If not for the POST, could it theoritically run off of virtual memory?  Why do we need memory sticks?
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Wolfpup99 earned 230 total points
ID: 12283396
Impossible, because code can only execute in physical memory, that's fundamental to how computers work -- in executing a program, the processor fetches instructions and data from memory addresses.

So-called "virtual memory" is a secondary memory store to which, and from which, physical memory pages are swapped by the operating system, effectively increasing the amount of available memory.  But any code that actually executes, at the moment it is executing, must reside in physical memory.

The part of the operating system callled the non-paged kernel is also a reflection of this fundamental fact.  That's the part of the OS that must always be in physical memory for a number of reasons, one of which is that it manages the virtual memory part.

Having said that, some of the earliest computers functioned without what we now call RAM, using magnetic drum memory that somewhat resembled disk drives.  However, they were specifically built to run that way because practical RAM technology did not yet exist.
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Assisted Solution

by:Dr-IP
Dr-IP earned 20 total points
ID: 12283724
Actually a computer could operate using a hard drive instead of RAM, but can’t since no computer is designed to work that way. The real question is why would anyone want a computer to work that way? I’d be slow, horribly slow, and close to useless.
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Expert Comment

by:Wolfpup99
ID: 12285321
Happy to help...

By way of further clarification, virtual memory is really nothing more than the process of an operating system paging out (i.e.- writing out to disk) parts of memory-resident programs and data that are not in use at a moment in time, and then bringing them back in when they are needed.  This frees up memory for programs that need to run at that particular moment in time.

So fundamentally virtual memory is just a feature that is created by the operating system (with a bit of help from memory management features in the CPU).  If you start up your PC with a basic dumb operating system like DOS for instance, there is no virtual memory -- the RAM sticks is all you have!
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