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Windows Task Manager Performance Tab Memory Info Explanation

I have a Gateway PC that is a 1.7 G Pentium 4 with 128 MB RDRAM running Windows XP Professional SP2.  For quite some time I had noticed that it was sluggish to open programs such as IE & MS Word and just programs in general.  I typically format my PC hard drive and reinstall everything once every year or two and decided to do so now on this PC.  After reformatting and reinstalling all software I have determined that the problem is just as prevalent as it was prior to taking this step.

I was suspicious of a memory shortage but didn't want to buy more of something just to find out that it didn't really solve the problem.  I have been using my Windows Task Manager Performance tab to view memory usage, etc. but don't fully understand what it is telling me.  I am for now pretty much ignoring the Totals area of the tab and focusing on the other 3 areas, Physical Memory, Commit Charge, and Kernel Memory.  I am not a newbie to this stuff but here are my questions:

1) I believe that Total Physical Memory refers to the amount of RAM in the PC.  Also I believe that the Available Physical Memory is the amount of RAM free for the PC to use.  I also think I understand that the System Cache is the amount of Level 1 or 2 cache in use.  Am I right with these 3 assumptions?

2) Assuming my assumptions were indeed correct in question 1, as a general rule of thumb how low as a percentage of total RAM should the Available Physical Memory be? I have seen it dip as low as 0 to 4 MB once.

3) What numbers on the Performance tab should add up roughly to equal the Total Physical Memory value presented on it or is there enough information even on this tab to determine that?

4) Does the Paged Kernel Memory value refer to the amount of space actually being used as virtual memory or just the amount of space that has been formatted/indexed correctly so that it can be moved to virtual hard drive space if it were to become necessary?

Thanks much.

Duane
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dekkyb
Asked:
dekkyb
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9 Solutions
 
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
You NEED more memory - 128 is not really enough for reasonable performace on XP.  Up it to AT LEAST 256, if you can 512 and you will see much better performance. (XP/2000/NT use memory differently than 9x and really want to use much more)
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dekkybAuthor Commented:
Two additional notes:

a) I had to manually increase the paging file on the PC as a Windows warning popped up indicating that the paging file resources were low.

b) The hard drive runs quite a bit during the times of sluggish activity that were indicated.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Hi dekkyb,
> 1) I believe that Total Physical Memory refers to the amount of RAM in
> the PC.  Also I believe that the Available Physical Memory is the amount
> of RAM free for the PC to use.  I also think I understand that the
> System Cache is the amount of Level 1 or 2 cache in use.  Am I right
> with these 3 assumptions?

You're right about Total Physical and Available Physical.  But system cache is NOT the L1 or L2 cache (no system has 185MB of L1 or L2 cache and that's what my system says my system cache is).  Never actually found out what it is - I'll check into though.

> 2) Assuming my assumptions were indeed correct in question 1, as a
> general rule of thumb how low as a percentage of total RAM should the
> Available Physical Memory be? I have seen it dip as low as 0 to 4 MB once.
>
> 3) What numbers on the Performance tab should add up roughly to equal
> the Total Physical Memory value presented on it or is there enough
> information even on this tab to determine that?

> 4) Does the Paged Kernel Memory value refer to the amount of space
> actually being used as virtual memory or just the amount of space that
> has been formatted/indexed correctly so that it can be moved to virtual
> hard drive space if it were to become necessary?

Paged Kernel memory I believe refers to the amount of memory the kernel (core OS) is using in the Page File.

I'll try to dig up a link on Memory Management/information in Windows XP - but the short of things is:

Windows uses LOTS of memory.  When Windows runs out of memory it puts things into Virtual Memory - Virtual memory is on the hard disk.  The hard disk is MUCH slower than a RAM chip.  That's why, when your system is slow, the disk is thrashing - it's using the hard disk as RAM and slowing everything down.

Cheers!
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dekkybAuthor Commented:
I have ordered an additional 128 MB and am waiting for it to arrive.  I am a little fearful like you indicated that 256 MB total may still be a little short but I'll see after I install it. :-)

Do you happen to know the answers to the 3 questions that I asked? I am trying to educate myself more in this area for this and future problems that arise.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
256 May be enough if you only use one program at a time.  BUT if you have multiple programs open, then you will likely have issues.  I use 512MB in my system and currently have open:

Dreamweaver MX (Web Authoring)
Mozilla 1.7 (Web Browsing)
Internet Explorer
Adobe PageMaker 7
Excel 2000
Word 2000
AOL Instant Messenger
Palm Hotsync
McAfee Antivirus
Acrobat Reader 5
SQL 2000 Enterprise Manager

Not to mention all the other little services and items.  And my system runs fine.  It would NOT if I only had 256 MB.  (According to Performance tab of Task Manager, I have 80 MB Free - which I believe is acceptable.

still looking for some links for you.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Note: XP and 2000 are based on NT Technology.  While there might be some relatively minor differences, but this should explain memory management in NT:

http://www.windowsitlibrary.com/Content/356/04/1.html
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dekkybAuthor Commented:
Perhaps the System Cache Physical Memory refers to the RAM being used for access that the system refers to as cache rather than general access, kind of like a supplemental cache to the real L1 and L2 cache areas? Anyway the real crux of the questions I asked is to try to find a way to determine where all of my RAM is being used.  I understand the Total Physical Memory is what is installed for use.  I also understand that the Available Physical Memory is what is not currently being used and is available for use.  The question is how do I determine the breakdown of what is in use and not available.  For example if I have 128 MB Total and 10 MB Available for use, how do I determine what is using the rest? Give me your best shot at these 2 questions and I'll call it a day.  You have been helpful. :-)
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stockhesCommented:
Hi dekkyb

System cache is an area , where the latest used programs are stored. It can be free'd from windows if needed.

The effect of this is described as an example:

If you open an application first time eg WORD it takes a little time to load.
Now if you close WORD and reopen WORD it loads much faster the second time, because its resident in the system cache.

Actually system cache is a virtual HD oposed to" SWAP file" which is virtual memory.

The tab "processes" should display the memory hogs  
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stockhesCommented:
To free up RAM you can deactivate some of the unused services windows XP is using

Download sisoft sandra

http://download.guru3d.com/sandra/

run the performance wizard: it will propose a number of services being deactivated. try that

From within "computer managemnet"
You can rightclick service and choose properties ant then you can try to stop the service
and set it to manual or deactivated.
 
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stockhesCommented:
> 4) Does the Paged Kernel Memory value refer to the amount of space
> actually being used as virtual memory or just the amount of space that
> has been formatted/indexed correctly so that it can be moved to virtual
> hard drive space if it were to become necessary?


Windows likes to have the kernel applications stored in the swap file because its faster accessed.
the reason its faster, even if both has to be loaded from the HD, is that what is stored in swap file is the application and its initialized data. so it wont have to initialize again like it did when you bootet.
If you have plenty of ram there is a "registry mod" to leave the kernel applcations in RAM, but thats not your issue:-)

Free ram is actually free ram + system cache
 
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SirJoshuaCommented:
>b) The hard drive runs quite a bit during the times of sluggish activity that were indicated.

Any program that is running on your computer has to be pulled into physical memory.  When the physical memory is filled up, windows will transfer inactive stuff to virtual memory, which is just a file on your hard drive.  When you then go to use something that is currently in virtual memory, windows has to pull that from the hard drive and put it into physical memory.  This is why your hard drive is running so much durring the times of sluggish activity.  Your computer is constantly writing to and reading from your hard drive.  You need more RAM to solve this problem.
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rajeev_niceCommented:
>>a) I had to manually increase the paging file on the PC as a Windows warning popped up    indicating that the paging file resources were low.
Try to locate a contiguous area on ur hdd to create the pagefile. The fragmented pagefile causes sluggish response. Off course 128 MB is definitely not gud for XP pro wit SP2 and few things running. gud rule of thumb.. the Pagefile size = physical RAM installed.. it can be set to a bigger size if required.

>>b) The hard drive runs quite a bit during the times of sluggish activity that were indicated.
It is because the pagefile resides probably on a highly fragmented drive and/or the boot drive (C:). If u have 2 or more drives, try to create ur pagefile on other drive than ur boot drive or if possible on a Striped volume.

Rajeev

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