Memory prices go up and down. Though putting more RAM in your PC is almost always a good investment, but you don’t have to spend any money to get the most from the memory you already have. Hard drives are getting larger (in four years we’ve gone from 4Gb to 40Gb as a ‘reasonable’ hard drive) but memory is still far more expensive than storage, so Windows needs to use free disk space as virtual memory. Tweaking the way Windows works with that virtual memory can make a big difference to the performance of your PC, and it can make sure it doesn’t crash all the time.
The more programs you run, the slower your PC goes. Not only is the virtual memory on your hard drive a hundred times slower than real memory, but shuffling one chunk of information from physical memory into the swap file that stores virtual memory on the hard drive to make room for the data another application is asking for takes time, too. Some apps request more memory than they need and hang on to it. Badly written applications can hog memory even after you close them, and shared DLL files that are loaded up by one program won’t get closed with that application in case another program is using them at the same time.
Tools of the trade
Memory optimisation tools are the best way to clean up memory. You can often double the amount of free memory without closing any documents or programs and the memory will be less fragmented, too.
If you’re defragmenting your hard drive, remember to turn off virtual memory first, as the swap file can’t be moved or defragmented because it’s always in use. In Windows 98, right-click My Computer and choose Properties, Performance, Virtual Memory, Disable virtual memory (Not recommended). If your PC runs out of RAM when you don’t have virtual memory it can crash, so don’t run other software while you’re defragmenting (which would give you other unmoveable files anyway) and turn the swap file back on when you’re done.
Windows creates a page file that’s at least as large as your real memory, plus 12Mb. You can set the maximum and minimum space to make sure you don’t run out of disk space. If you make both the same size, then Windows won’t waste time making the file larger and smaller. This also means that the swap file stays in the same place on your hard drive and so doesn’t become fragmented. 384Mb is a good size to start with.
Optimise memory in 98
Right-click My Computer and choose Properties to open the System Properties control panel. The Performance tab shows you how much physical memory you have as well as the system resources.
Click Virtual Memory and choose Let me specify my own virtual memory settings then Disable virtual memory. Choose OK. This turns off virtual memory so you can defragment your hard drive fully.
Once you’ve defragmented, go back to the Control panel and change the virtual memory settings again. Choose the same minimum and maximum sizes to fix the swap file size and avoid fragmentation.
Windows 98 also enables you to adjust the amount of memory that’s used for caching drives. Click File System on the Performance tab and choose a smaller or larger cache for more memory or faster storage.
Utilities such as Cacheman enable you to see your physical memory, virtual memory and cache settings in more detail as well as keeping track of system resources. You can free up memory on the Settings tab.
Cacheman enables you to tweak the cache settings for your hard drive, CD-ROM drive, desktop icons and file and folder names in much more detail. You can pick a typical profile, use the wizard or just experiment.
Memory optimisers are quicker and simpler and they often enable you to tweak other settings to improve performance at the same time. TweakMe (www.totalidea.com) makes it possible to free up memory, unload DLLS and adjust memory and other system settings for Windows 98.
Badly written software can ‘leak’ memory and system resources, not releasing them even when you close the application. You can’t force applications to release system resources and you can’t force Windows 98 to increase system resources, so you need to keep an eye on usage with the System Monitor or a tool like FreeMem (www.meikel.com).
Windows also uses up memory caching your hard drive, CD-ROM drive and other storage. Increasing the cache size makes your storage devices faster, while decreasing it gives you more memory for running apps. Experiment with different settings to see what works best for you with Cacheman (www.outertech.com).