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Task Manager: XP on the left, Vista on the right.

On XP, I would check to see if Peak Commit Charge was approaching Total Physical Memory. When Peak exceeded Total during normal usage, the page file gets hit harder and performance degrades. I would know to recommend a RAM upgrade.

As Jeff explains, Vista uses RAM differently.

How do I read Task Manager in Vista to objectively determine if it's time to upgrade (i.e., the page file is getting taxed)?

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Upgrade to Windows 7. ;) – Sasha Chedygov Jul 30 '09 at 23:04
    
I know my answer was tongue-in-cheek, but I'm looking forward to someone's real answer, +1 for the question. – Lance Roberts Jul 30 '09 at 23:15
up vote 8 down vote accepted

I recommend using the Reliability and Performance Monitoring Tool to see if your system is memory starved, specifically the memory section. Look for hard faults/sec:

A hard fault (also known as a page fault) occurs when the page of the referenced address is no longer in physical memory and has been swapped out or is available from a backing file on disk. It is not an error. However, a high number of hard faults may explain the slow response time of an application if it must continually read data back from disk rather than from physical memory.

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Thanks, hard faults/sec looks like a good benchmark. – hyperslug Aug 2 '09 at 22:39
    
The problem is, this won't catch the case where system performance is heavily impacted by a lack of memory for use as a disk cache. So long as the working set of all programs fits in memory, you may not see any hard faults. Meanwhile, data pages can be thrashing badly. – David Schwartz Aug 30 '11 at 18:14

When you can afford it, buy it. You always need more memory, especially in Vista.

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4 Gb RAM = what? 50$ I'd always max it out – Ivo Flipse Jul 31 '09 at 6:27
    
yeah, it's almost cheaper to just buy the max memory your system supports than spend any time at all thinking about this. – Jeff Atwood Aug 2 '09 at 4:12
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Have to agree with Jeff, memory is dirt cheap, and you'll never regret having loads of RAM. – The How-To Geek Aug 2 '09 at 4:28
    
I disagree, it's not cheap for everyone. I've done a lot of troubleshooting for college students and some really have to pinch pennies to afford $20 for RAM, so I have to justify it by pointing to real numbers that show it will fix their problem. "50$ max it out" would definitely not fly. Plus, many of them are non-technology majors and are ok w/ circumventing the issue if needs be (close 1 app to open another, reboot often, etc.). – hyperslug Aug 2 '09 at 22:33

Try using resource monitor and looking at the percentage of physical memory used.

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FYI You should be aware that there is a 4GB ram address space limit in 32bit versions of XP and vista. If you want more than 4GB, you need to use a 64bit version of windows.

For full details please refer to this Microsoft MSDN article

So my approach has always been to install 4GB of memory in a 32bit OS by default.

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Try giving the Crucial System Scanner a go.

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What does this application do? – hyperslug Jul 31 '09 at 17:52
    
crucial is a memory vendor, so I expect it'd tell you what model # of memory works in your system (ddr2, ddr3, etc) – Jeff Atwood Aug 2 '09 at 4:08

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