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Is Memory Management
Pure Bunkum?

Memory optimisers are controversial. Some people swear by them. And some people swear at them. The main dividing line between the two opposing camps seems to be the version of Windows they use.

From Windows XP onwards, Microsoft seem to have finally gained the upper hand on effective memory management. So if you use a contemporary operating system, you probably won't see any real gains from using a memory optimiser and may actually slow your system down.

The reason for this is that memory optimisers will work against the system that Microsoft now use to handle Windows memory management.

Many users of memory managers on XP and higher have reported that while most memory managers will free up RAM for them, those gains may only last for a few minutes. XP will quickly reload RAM with the files it uses to handle memory management issues.

So while a memory manager can get you out of a tight spot and give you enough time to close a memory hogging program down, on XP or higher it won't be an enduring gain.

And frequently cleaning out your RAM can also slow XP or higher machines down because it fragments the virtual memory to physical memory mappings that XP and higher use.

However, older PCs usually do gain a real benefit from a good memory manager - and it's often those machines that either aren't worth adding RAM to or for which RAM upgrades aren't possible (and this actually happened to one of our old machines in the last year: it had reached the age where the only way we could get extra RAM chips was to visit a PC junk store to look for them!)

Other Memory Optimiser Resources

Memory Optimisers
Background: It's no secret that the way that memory has been handled in personal computers has been a bit of a mess ever since the first IBM PCs were developed in 1981. And it's a mess that - in one way or another - we all continue to suffer from today.

The way this problem developed was that back in the 1980s, the computer engineers who developed the first desktop PCs didn't have any inkling about just how wildly successful the personal computer revolution would be or just how far and how fast PCs would evolve (in fact, some people speculate that some of IBM's engineers thought PCs would be a fad that wouldn't last more than a few years!)

So when it came to deciding how RAM (random access memory) would work, those engineers arbitrarily assigned the first 640K of RAM for the use of software and assigned the next 384K for the use of hardware. And at the time - since most PCs only used 64K to 256K of RAM - this seemed more than ample.

But by the late 1980s software and hardware we both pushing these limits. This in turn gave rise to infamous "640K Barrier" and led to the development of lots of memory manager programs and other tricks designed to get around this barrier in order to make more memory available. In fact - for awhile - finding ways to get around the 640K barrier spawned an entire industry.

This situation persisted until the development of 32-bit machines and modern operating systems in the 1990s, which allowed all available memory to be uniformly accessed in protected mode.

Nonetheless, effective use of memory is still largely a "hit or miss" affair. And leaving memory management up to your operating system and/or your software - which is the default position - can produce sub-optimal results. Even modern operating systems are still not truly efficient in this area and poorly programmed software can put a lock on portions of memory (a "memory leak") which actually reduces the amount of RAM you have available. In addition, many modern PCs run many programs in the background that consume RAM without most users even being aware of it.

This can lead to anything from slow performance to system lock-ups and crashes (particularly if you have many applications open at once). And the solution to this problem is either to purchase and install more RAM (which is usually the best thing to do if you're running a newish PC and are having frequent lock-ups or crashes caused by running out of memory) or to install a dedicated memory optimiser to make best use of whatever RAM you currently have.

Since installing extra RAM is expensive and techy, though, many people prefer to try a software solution first. So we've found 6 completely free memory optimisers that can help keep your RAM clean and ensure that you have the maximum available memory at your fingertips most of the time (bearing in mind the caveats we list in our sidebar).

Here's what they care:


Popular Memory Optimisers
PCWinTech's CleanMem is a simple to use memory optimiser that's quick to install (or uninstall) and very intelligently built. It will clean the memory out of all the processes it can - without any user input - and once it's installed it will do this automatically in the background every 30 minutes without needing any input from the end-user whatsoever. CleanMem itself doesn't run continuously (so it doesn't chew up RAM on its own account). Instead, it uses the Windows Task Scheduler to start up and close down automatically. CleanMem also comes with an editable "ignore" list so that you can instruct it to skip any particular processes you want to be left running untouched. CleanMem will also ignore anti-virus programs (which usually run continuously in the background). We were impressed by this nifty little program and in our tests we were able to use it to find an average 10% extra RAM. Many other people have given it a thumbs-up too. CleanMem runs on all versions of Windows from Win2000 through to Win2008 (including XP and Vista) and it's freeware. Get CleanMem


TweakNow's RAM Idle LE is a freeware version of the company's RAM Idle Professional, but this neat memory optimiser packs enough punch to make it a worthwhile download all by itself - especially if you're running an older version of Windows (where it seems to deliver its biggest and best performance boost). RAM Idle LE runs in the background on a very small footprint and automatically monitors your RAM usage, freeing up RAM when system resources run low. It also includes a very useful System Info function that presents you with detailed information about your system (which can be useful in determining if you have the system requirements to install new hardware or software). RAM Idle runs on all versions of Windows from Win98 to XP. It's a small download (only about 300K) and completely free for non-commercial use. Get RAM Idle LE


If you'd like a more hands-on approach to RAM management, J. Pajula's RAMBooster has been around for many years and is a well-regarded program that's won quite a lot of awards. Like the other programs reviewed here, RAMBooster constantly monitors the amount of RAM your system is using and allows you to free it up automatically (whenever available memory gets too low, RAMbooster will simply find unused RAM and return it to the free pool). However, if you don't want to accept the program defaults you can modify them through the Preferences screen of the Edit menu to determine how much RAM you'd like it to free up and at which point of resource consumption to do so. RAMBooster always minimizes to your Windows tray, its GUI looks a little old-fashioned and it hasn't been updated for several years. But it supports up to 9999 Mb of RAM, runs very quickly, and allows you to perform a RAM clean-up at any time by simply right-clicking the icon in the system tray and selecting Run Now (the icon colour changes from red and black to yellow as memory drops). RAMBooster runs on all versions of Windows (from Win95 to XP/2003) and it's freeware. Get RAMBooster


Ram Optimizer
AceLogiX's Ram Optimizer monitors your memory and frees up RAM if it falls below a certain minimum. It consumes very little memory itself, and the program's no-nonsense interface allows you to set whether you'd like to it work automatically or manually and to set the amount of free memory you'd like to have, as well as start-up options. Like RAMBooster (above), the program's small tray icon shows you the level of free memory you have at any time and lets you access the program's main page with a single mouse click. Ram Optimizer is a compact, useful program and AceLogiX freely admit that XP users probably won't notice any difference at all. However, users of older versions of Windows generally will - especially if you're suffering frequent crashes or need to reboot multiple times through the day. Ram Optimizer runs on all versions of Windows from Win95 to XP and it's freeware. Get Ram Optimizer


FinitySoft Memory Manager
FinitySoft Memory Manager is a small, simple to use memory optimiser that has two nice extra features: in addition to setting the RAM levels at which you'd like it to kick in, it also allows you to set your Windows cache settings and to pick different skins or - if you really want - to create one of your own. Like several other programs reviewed here, this software allows you to optimize memory manually or automatically and lets you to easily free up a specified (or predefined) amount of memory with a shortcut. FinitySoft also allows you to automatically or manually tune your system's cache, and it provides nifty real-time charts of available memory and CPU usage to help guide you in setting it to the way your PC works. FinitySoft Memory Manager uses the system tray (which means that modifying its settings is only a mouse-click away) and the program's online help is very clear and detailed (you can get a good idea of exactly how this program works just by spending a few minutes skimming over the online manual). FinitySoft Memory Manager runs on all versions of Windows (from Win95 to Vista) and it's freeware. Get FinitySoft Memory Manager


Glary Utilities
Finally, we mentioned Glary Utilities in our reviews of computer cleaners but we think it's appropriate to mention them here as well. Reason? If computer crashes and/or the need to reboot several times a day are making your computing life a misery at the moment, then low RAM may not be the only cause. And while Glary Utilities do include a memory manager as part of their overall suite of utilities, they also includes lots of other power-packed functions that can give your PC a thorough tune-up (and perhaps a good clean out is what it really needs - not a memory optimiser at all!). If you want to minimise the number of downloads you have on your system, Glary Utilities have so many good functions that this one download may save you making several from different vendors. And the software is very, very good. Glary Utilities runs on all versions of Windows from Win98 to Vista and it's freeware (but you can also upgrade to a commercial Pro version if you want). Get Glary Utilities


This page last updated: 25-Sep-2008


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