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Memory Issues

Can there really be too much RAM in Win9x/ME? by cdogg
Posted: 12 Sep 02 (Edited 21 Feb 04)

Such thing as too much RAM in 9x/ME?  Absolutely.  Unless properly configured, you risk hurting overall system performance and stability.

First, I want to make it clear that no two systems react in the same way.  Just because the girl next door can run 2 gigs of RAM under Win95, doesn't mean you can too!  Now pay attention, focus, and get your mind off that girl!

There's an ongoing debate as to whether Windows 95, 98, or ME can benefit or even work with large amounts of RAM.  Some have problems, others don't.  Why?  The answer is not as simple as one might expect.  Because of the thousands of different hardware & software configurations that exist, no two situations are ever identical.
Your "having-a-baby" story    could very well differ from the next guy who's crying "bloody murder".

Here's an explanation straight from Mióro$oft:


As you can see from the article, Vcache grows as you continue to add more RAM.  The size of the Vcache is set during the boot process.  It varies depending on the amount of RAM and type of devices running in the system.   As you increase RAM, free address space in the "system arena" diminishes in part due to the growth of Vcache.  This in turn weakens "Virtual Memory", which is responsible for managing your system's resources.  If it's all in use or close to the max, then you can see why the system might decide to show you it's personal "Do Not Disturb" sign - the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD).

This is how the Windows 9x kernel is flawed.  It has limited space in the system arena (0xC0000000 through 0xFFFFFFFF).  AGP cards and other devices may also demand a specified amount space at bootup or dynamically while the system is running.  As you can see, this "address space" can get used up rather quickly.

The first thing you can do to help out your system is to modify the amount of space Vcache can use.  The main purpose of Vcache is to keep an active record of file access in main system memory.  For example, if you were to open an intensive program like Adobe Premiere you might notice that the system hits the hard drive frequently until the application is finished opening.  During all that, Vcache essentially takes notes.  So if you were to close Premiere for some reason and then reopen it, the program would load faster the second time around.  Or, if you were to open a cousin application like Adobe's ImageReady or Photoshop which use some of the same system files as Premiere, the apps should load faster than they normally would from scratch.  That's nice and all, but does Vcache need to be that large?  The answer is NO!  It's best to find a balance between the size of Vcache and the size of available RAM.

If you are running more than 256MB of RAM, this tweak might be for you:


Simply add a MaxFileCache entry to your system.ini file.  The size is up to you as long as you don't exceed 512MB.  Typically, you want to set it to one-fourth the size of RAM if you have more than 256MB.  Otherwise, don't use the setting or make it one-half.  So if you wanted to set it to 128MB, you would add this line:


Just multiply 1024 to the number in MB (1024 x 128 = 131072).

AGP video cards can also interfere.  They are usually allowed to set aside up to 64MB of system RAM by default.  This "use" of RAM requires additional mapping in the system arena much like Vcache.  The BIOS controls this amount - also known as the aperture size.  It is normally a good idea to leave this setting alone unless you are having problems.  If you've tried other tweaks to no avail and your video card has at least 16 megs of video RAM, then try reducing the aperture size to 32MB.  Some have found that setting useful.  Do not set this below 16MB to avoid complications.  Some games might actually run better by increasing this amount - but that's a entirely unrelated topic - although the increase will use more system RAM which is what we're trying to avoid here.  If you use integrated video or have less than 8MB of video, changing this setting can greatly hurt performance!  

NT systems like Windows 2000 or Windows XP don't have this problem.

Need more information?  Here are some helpful links to better understand Windows' resources:


And for those of you familiar with the ConservativeSwapfileUsage=1 entry, here's a good article (read the last paragraph):

Conclusion:  Mióro$oft is right about the memory limitations in Win9x/ME.  But each kind has a workaround.  Unless applications/games you're running on your system require huge amounts of available RAM, 256MB is just the right amount.  Adding more will just increase your chances of having to use some of the tweaks mentioned here.  If you continue to have issues and the above suggestions don't help, consider the upgrade 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!


Back to Microsoft: Windows FAQ Index
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