As explained in the memory article, when Windows doesn't have enough memory, it uses some of the hard drive as if it were memory. That part of the hard drive that it uses is called the Swap File since it literally swaps various bits of programs and data in and out of the actual RAM and into the swap file as it determines what it needs in memory and what it does not at that very moment. Under ideal circumstances, the swap file is not used very much. That is when the computer has adequate RAM to do all it needs. All too often, though, that is not the case.
There are also some other issues that affect how quickly the computer works in addition to having less than an ideal amount of RAM and that is how Windows is configured in regard to the swap file (also called Virtual Memory). The best configuration is to let Windows manage the size of the swap file so that it can expand it or shrink it as it deems necessary. However, I have been seeing a large number of computers recently that have had their default of "System Managed Size" reset to "Custom Size" and some arbitrarily small numbers put in for initial size and maximum size. Though I have not proven this beyond the shadow of a doubt yet, my suspicion is that this is being set during a patch update from Microsoft as there is nothing else that would cause those settings to change. I can speculate on why they would do this but this article is not for such considerations. Instead, I will tell you how to check your settings and how to change them to what they should be.
Go to the Start Menu | Control Panel | System and then click the Advanced tab. On there, you will see three sections. The top one is labelled Performance and has a summary line that speaks of virtual memory. Click on the Settings button there and click on the Advanced tab that comes up on that window. At the bottom, you will see a button in the section labelled "Virtual memory." Click on that Change button. On the next screen, you will see three radio buttons, the center of which is "System managed size." If that is not the one that is currently selected, click on it and then click the Set button. After that, click on the various OK buttons until all the windows that you just opened are closed. You will receive a message window after clicking the first OK that says that you need to reboot before the settings will take effect. Click OK to clear that message. When you click OK on the last window, another message will come up asking if you want to reboot now. Unless you have something else running that cannot be interrupted or you have not saved a document on which you are currently working, click OK and let your computer do its magic.
Once you have rebooted, your system will probably work a bit faster since it now is able to control its swap file and do what it needs to maintain the best efficiency for the computer. If you already have the optimal amount of RAM for your version of Windows (as discussed in the memory article), the difference in speed will probably not be that noticeable as compared to if you had a lesser amount of RAM. However, as they say, every little bit helps.
If you do not feel comfortable making changes in the Control Panel, let us know and we will gladly set up a time to come out and see how your swap file settings are configured and take care of it for you. While we are there, we will also look over your computer for other issues that you may wish to consider. Give us a call and we will gladly do all we can to make you and your computer happy.