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The hard disk seems to be fine too

Here are sample diagrams of the incident

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4 Answers 4

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The OS has internal parameters which dictate its swapping behavior. Typically the OS begins swapping out aggressively once the physical memory usage hits 60-70 percent or so. On linux this is specified by a single parameter which is actually settable by the user (the so-called swappiness parameter), on windows its swapping behavior is not so easily modified. The only straight-forward solution is to disable swap (as this will force the OS to keep everything in physical memory), but this will cause all sorts of other problems (and is not recommended). In fact if you had done so, your PC would have crashed right about now.

Other problems could be multiple applications locking I/O resources (say if you have 20 applications trying to read files from disk or a bunch waiting for user input). Since applications will typically sleep until they are allocated their IO request, multiple high-interactivity applications will extend the IO queue and can make the system unresponsive. Assuming none of them are minimized (AFAIR windows will give minimized applications low priority on the IO queue corresponding to user input like mouse/keyboard changes).

Also keep in mind that your actual ram usage is higher than indicated by the chart. While only 2.6GB of physical memory is used, your running processes have actually requested (reserved) more than your physical amount of ram (The VM commit is at 4.5GB in that screen shot). The OS is also caching (storing in memory) about 500MB of open files, although these are low-priority from the POV of the memory-manager. In an attempt to improve responsiveness, the OS is keeping 2.6GB of the committed pages in physical memory and the rest are swapped off. Depending on how the processes are using memory, this may mean that you will be swapping up to 2GB on and off disk (although its probably much less than that)

Is there a solution? Yes, there are three, but neither one is painless. In order of effectiveness. 1. Run fewer processes (I don't know if chrome starts a process for every tab, but there are twenty or so memory heavy chrome processes running). 2. Get more RAM 3. Use a faster hardrive (not very effective, even with an SSD the difference in speed between RAM and swapped memory is 2 orders of magnitude) . Alas, even in 2011 resource utilization is a big problem on computers.

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My first guess in this case is always disk I/O. is your hard drive indicator light solid on? You can use a tool like ProcExp to see what programs are initiating a lot of operations. –  jcrawfordor Aug 10 '11 at 23:56
    
Wow I see - thanks so much for the answer! Could ReadyBoost help a bit with swappiness? –  InquilineKea Aug 11 '11 at 1:40
    
@InquelineKea swappiness is the linux name for the parameter (I edited my answer to make this more clear) the windows memory management module is structured differently, but the basic concept applies. Ready boost is actually related to the third solution I stated, it moves the swap off the magnetic disk and onto a flash drive, which helps in reducing the latency of any swapping that the OS decides to do, but will not affect its tendency to swap. And unfortunately, even with flash memory, the latency is several orders of magnitudes slower than your RAM and you will still notice a slow down. –  crasic Aug 11 '11 at 2:36
    
Ironically, under Vista, the Task manager grouped cache under used RAM and the concern was "Windows is using so much RAM." Now they separated it and people are wanting Windows to use more RAM. . . –  surfasb Aug 11 '11 at 4:08
    
@surfasb yeah, I find the task manager memory usage graphs to be a little deceitful with regards to how your computer is really using its resources. –  crasic Aug 11 '11 at 5:15

It could be that the large number of processes that you have running are causing the swapping to disk to occur earlier than normal (that would be at around 80% of RAM or so).

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It's a feature built into all versions of windows!

Another feature of windows is that it's always fast when you initially install it fresh. Once you apply all the patches from Microsoft it's back to being slow.

No seriously, this is extremely common. When was the last time it was rebooted?

I've found that it generally relates to memory swapping in and out to disk and memory fragmentation. It's made worse on machines lower in RAM. e.g. For Windows 7 anything less than <=2GB of ram and it's more susceptible to it. There could also be a background task or application that's poorly written that hogs the CPU and uses excessive RAM. Look in the process list and see which one is hogging resources. More often than not, I've found it's related to a windows OS task or service, but sometimes not and sometimes it's a device driver.

Reboot the computer and see if the problem goes away for a while. Otherwise, post more information about your computer hardware and device drivers

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I've got a 3 year old install of XP, no reinstalls, no reboots other than necessary.. and it runs perfectly fine. The needing 'constant' reboots went away with windows 9x. –  Journeyman Geek Aug 11 '11 at 0:04
    
@Journeyman amen, there is way too much advice on making windows run "properly" that hasn't been relevant since 9x. –  crasic Aug 11 '11 at 2:58

People need to forget about Task Manager. It's like trying to make a budget based on what you bought that day.

Use Performance monitor. Use the default System Performance Data Collector set. Run that for a day and then post that graph.

edit

Firing up Task Manager during a system intensive time also skews the graphs, since Task manager has to enumerate all those processes and counter. So your initial 5 to 10 seconds of task manager are always going to be off.

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