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Memory Issues

Can there really be too much RAM in Win9x/ME? by cdogg
Posted: 14 Mar 02 (Edited 4 Dec 02)

Such thing as too much RAM?  Absolutely.  You don't want to add more than your system can handle, do you?  Even worse, you could hinder overall performance and stability.

There has been ongoing controversy as to whether Windows 95, 98, or ME can benefit from large amounts of RAM (or even work in some cases).  The answer is not as simple as one might expect.  One reason for that are the thousands of different hardware configurations that exist.  Depending on yours, your story may differ from the next schmoe who's crying "bloody murder".  

Here's Microsoft's explanation on why too much RAM can be harmful:


As you can see from the article, Vcache starts to use up memory addresses in the system arena as you continue to add more RAM.  The size of the Vcache is set during the boot process dependent on this amount.   As you increase RAM, free address space dwindles.  This in turn weakens "Virtual Memory", which is responsible for managing system resources and assigning unused addresses to new processes.  It can eventually reach a point where opening a simple process, such as a DOS prompt, might crash your system (16-bit apps load virtual machines that consume available addresses not in use by Vcache).

The Windows 9x kernel is flawed in this respect.  It only allows a limited address range from 0xC0000000 through 0xFFFFFFFF (the system arena).  AGP cards and other devices may need address space in the system arena as well.  As you can see, this space can get used up rather quickly.  

AGP video is automatically allowed to use up to 64MB of system RAM.  This "use" of RAM requires additional mapping in the system arena.  By default, the BIOS controls this amount - also known as the aperture size.  If you are experiencing any problems and your video card has at least 16 megs of video RAM, I suggest reducing the aperture size to 32MB.  Do not set this below 16MB to avoid complications.  Also, if you use integrated video or have less than 8MB of video, changing this setting can greatly hurt performance!  

If you're looking for another solution that doesn't involve upgrading the OS or changing the amount of RAM, check out Microsoft's suggestion on what to try:
  • You'll need to add a MaxFileCache entry to the [Vcache] section of the System.ini file.  Just make sure you keep the Max setting at or below 512MB (or "MaxFileCache=524,288").  This workaround won't help everyone.  It all boils down to your hardware config and how much RAM you're trying to stuff down lil'old Win9x's belly!   

Still not convinced?  Read this in-depth article about how your resources work in Win9x:

Conclusion:  Even though Microsoft recommends that 512MB is the limit, I would steer clear of going anywhere near.  256MB is ideal and usually enough.  There are very few exceptions like if you're a multimedia freak who likes to edit WAV and movie files on a daily basis.  Even in those cases, 256MB can usually cut it.  If you continue to have issues and changing the aperture size doesn't help, consider upgrading to Win2K or WinXP...

If you feel there's anything that can be added to this FAQ or see something you flat out disagree with, don't hesistate to let me know!  Just click the link below to send me an email!  


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