Friday, 17 June 2011

Got RAM? - An Amazing Tweak

My 2 x '4GB Corsair XMS DDR3'sticks arrived today. I had used 2 x '2GB Crucial Ballistix DDR3', and had looked to upgrade them, but sadly my motherboard didn't like having another two that supported XMP (something almost all RAM sticks have), so I gave up and just decided to replace the current two with bigger memory sticks.

After installing I used a very clever tweak my friend Staeton suggested (only suitable if you have a lot of RAM, 8GB+, and a hard drive that's quite slow).
You can significantly decrease the size of Virtual Memory or completely disable it. Virtual Memory, is effectively fake RAM on the Hard Drive. So if you have at least 4GB chances are, when you switch between several open programs, the giant lags are due to a slow hard drive rather than 'not enough' RAM.

Virtual Memory is stored on a file called 'pagefile.sys'. It's a hidden file in your C drive (or whatever drive you're using for your Operating System). You can easily see it by altering folder viewing options: Uncheck 'Hide protected operating system files (Recommended)'.

My 'pagefile' took up a crazy 8GB, it was almost like having crappy RAM.

Here's where you find the settings for virtual memory
[Warning: if your computer is not suffering from lag and you have a fast hard drive or a Solid State  and decent RAM, then FABULOUS, you shouldn't have to do this. Also do not do this, if you have no idea what you are doing- I use Windows 7 x64, and my specs are found at the bottom of this post]

Right-click 'My Computer' > 'Properties' to get to 'System'

'Advanced System Settings' takes you to the 'System Properties', here you can fiddle with performance settings.

The settings for Virtual Memory are right under the Advanced tab, and here you notice if you click 'Change' you can even  set the amount of memory dumped into the Paging File. 
The default 'pagefile' sizes vary for computers. Mine was 8GB. If you have a good amount of RAM, you probably won't need 8GB of Virtual Memory! So shrink the sucker, to force your computer to use those expensive sticks you bought. 'Initial size' is what it will aim to be, 'Maximum' allows it extra space if it exceeds the 'Initial size' out of necessity. If you decide to fully disable the Virtual Memory, tick 'No paging file' and then pressing 'Set'.

After you press 'Set' this warning message appears. It's up to you to take the advice and keep at least 400MB for your error reports. Decreasing your VM already makes a big difference (it did for me), so I would heed the warning.

These are my settings, I prefer having a little more than 400MB, so I can have some kind of backup and error reports.
Here is how it made a lot of difference for me:

Single Monitor: 24" (1920x1200px)
OS: Windows 7 Home Edition 64-bit 
Motherboard: Asus P7P55D (considered decently cheap)
CPU: Intel i5 quad core (not the newest model)
RAM: 2x 4GB Corsair XMS DDR3 

I use programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Autodesk Maya, Unreal Development Kit, After Effects, bloody iTunes and tend to keep Steam, Windows Live Messenger, Skype and a web browser open at all times.
I tried to benchmark today, turning on all these programs- playing music, whilst having several youtube videos on, opened up photoshop files, a UDK map and IM'ing people effortlessly and switching between the programs very quickly.

It only took up 5GB of my 8GB RAM (my cpu was 50% when i was opening all the programs). In reality I would never use this much at one time. So you decide how risky it will be. If you're a bigger memory hog than me, you should probably consider more RAM before tweaking or not tweaking at all. The programs I use are pretty intensive as they are on their own.

Despite the amount of programs running at once, I noticed a huge difference: it takes less time to open/close them, and I didn't have to worry about my HDD trying to catch up with my CPU commands. Also my computer starts up quicker.


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