My mother-in-law's Windows Vista desktop (Dell Inspiron 531) is running slowly, and I think it is because it is running low on memory. When the computer has been sitting idle for a while the physical memory usage will get up around 90%. The UI is laggy, usually it takes about 10 seconds to see any effects of a click, and opening a Firefox window will take a full minute or so. After using the computer for a while it will gradually go down and stay around 60%, and at that point the computer becomes responsive.

As far as I can tell there is no single process hogging more memory than expected. Obviously the browser is using a lot (~100 - 200 MB), and the next in the list is the svchost.exe instance that's part of the Services process including stuff like SysMain, Netman, hidserv, wudfsvc, UxSms, etc. The computer is up to date, and she's doing regular virus scans with Microsoft Security Essentials. She doesn't have a ton of extra stuff running, but there are a handful:

  • WeatherBug
  • IncrediMail (I can't convince her to just go to GMail....)
  • Lexmark Imaging Studio
  • LogMeIn (so I can do remote maintenance)

She has 1 GB on a Vista desktop, which seems reasonable, and it was fine last Christmas. I'm more experienced w/ UNIX, and while that is a bit low, 1 GB of memory wouldn't be prohibitively slow like it is on this machine. The "Performance Information and Tools" section of the control panel rates her processor at 3.4 and her memory at 4.5 (out of 6?).

So what can I do to make the machine run faster? Is it possible I am missing something that's hogging memory and causing it to run slowly? The only steps I've taken so far is to disable unused startup items, disabled all visual effects (really, this computer looks like 1998...), and run disk cleanup (she's only using a third of her 150 GB). I'm about to break down and purchase more RAM, but I wanted to check just in case.

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    I idle at 1GB of RAM on Vista. You might want to consider moving her down to XP – Simon Sheehan Dec 28 '11 at 20:34
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    I don't use it anymore but in the short time I used Vista I found 1GB to be woefully inadequate. Windows 7 fared far better, but performance was still not stellar even for basic tasks. – ThatGraemeGuy Dec 28 '11 at 20:41

According to the requirements, Vista requires 1GB just to run Vista (well, officially, any version above Home Basic anyway). It doesn't account for actually running any programs in it.

So Vista + Anti-Virus using ~1GB of RAM at idle is not surprising in the slightest. Get her at least another 1GB of RAM.

Beyond that, perhaps an SSD hard drive would help the cause. ;)

Also perhaps check out this SU question: What can I turn off on a vista laptop to free up resources

  • There's no excuse not to get 4GB at today's prices. – Bigbio2002 Dec 29 '11 at 6:44

Disable all eye-candy and post process effects, disable the new desktop and window manager (use XP-style instead), disable all unneeded services, disable logging, update all drivers, install Vista 64 bit or better Windows 7 64 bit. You can save a lot when you disable all unneeded services. I save about 100 MB RAM with Windows 7. There is a nice tutorial from Black_Viper about Windows services and some preferences: http://www.blackviper.com/2010/12/17/black-vipers-windows-7-service-pack-1-service-configurations/. Logging is also a big perfomance hog. Disable it with the registry editor. Maybe you can set your mother top ten programs to a higher priority and perhaps also affinity? You can set the priority with specialized tools. I usually do this with my games. Disable all autoruns and startup and if possible the firewall and the antivirus (or get a faster antivirus). And also the performance rating and information tool rates from 1 to 7 not 6. Max value is 7.

Edit: You can also use an alternate memory manager: http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-memory-optimizer.htm. A memory manager can compress the used ram and free up a bit of ram. In Linux there is compcache and/or zram. However I don't know how that works on Windows. It could be that the alternate memory manager doesn't use this technology of compression. This program here uses compression: http://www.wincarepro.com/index.htm. You can use compcache to create a ram disk for Windows (http://www.vflare.org/2009/03/ram-is-not-enough-memory-compression.html).

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    I'd think that moving to 64-bit would make things worse rather than better on a memory starved system. – afrazier Dec 28 '11 at 21:14
  • @afrazier: It depends, when he tweaks everything I wrote, then no. – Gigamegs Dec 28 '11 at 21:32
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    @Jitamaro Pretty sure that running x64 will cause libraries to be loaded twice (x86 & x64) whenever a mixture of 32 and 64 bits applications/components using the same libraries are used. At best memory usage will be the same, but I don't see any benefit in running x64 on a memory-limited PC. All your suggested tweaks apply just as well on the x86 version. – mtone Dec 28 '11 at 23:46
  • @mtone: Why? In x64 I never run into using the compat mode? Do you have an example? With this little progam his mother needs? Even most games are compiled for x86. – Gigamegs Dec 28 '11 at 23:50
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    Autoruns will help you track down what gets started at boot up/login and will let you disable/reenable them easily. technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb963902 – Chris Nava Dec 29 '11 at 5:35

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