I've had a question(s) regarding computer degradation going through my head for a while and haven't found many good resources for researching it.

1) First off, when is the virtual RAM/paging file on a hard drive used by Windows? Is it used when the RAM is full? Or does it use the Virtual RAM/paging file as intermediate caching between the RAM and actual hard drive space all the time?

2) If I were to run many applications on my computer at the same time and have a bad habit of doing this for the entire lifetime of the computer, does it use more of the virtual RAM/paging file than if I were to have fewer programs running? Just to note, the RAM never fills up on my computer but it is used heavily.

3) By extension of question 2, if the virtual RAM/paging file is used more heavily, would that result in rapid hard drive degradation?

I have seen a pattern among all of the computers that I have owned or used in the past 5 years. I am the kind of person to leave my web browser up with 40 tabs among other programs which will eat up 40% of my memory typically. Over time my computer will slow down, browsers start crashing, programs start seizing up or crashing themselves, eventually the computer becomes essentially unusable. I have been trying to rack my mind to come up with a solution other than to purchase a new PC to have it die on me in the next couple years as well. This is the only thought that has come to mind that might have a simple hardware fix...Windows ReadyBoost...Maybe? I'd like to be able to discuss this so I can learn something about all of the above.


  • This doesn't have anything to do with the hard drive it is just the result of day to day use. This is why periodic wipes and reinstalls are recommended.
    – EBGreen
    Nov 29, 2012 at 16:30
  • When software runs, there is a thing called garbage collection. This is where memory is freed up (from values, variables, objects, etc.). Sometimes, not everything is cleaned out properly and certain memory addresses become unusable until a reboot occurs. This is more likely what you are seeing. Also, over time, as you install , remove, reinstall software, the Registry tends to get a little messy. This causes programs to start and run more slowly as they're taking longer to use values in the Registry. And, all electronics will degrade in performance as they get older.
    – Ian Atkin
    Nov 29, 2012 at 16:32
  • 1
    @IanAtkin Computer's don't age like people. A 10 year old processor will run exactly as fast as the day is was made. While it's true that computer's get slower the more stuff you put on them, this is because you computer is opening and maintaining more programs, not because of the registry. Messing around with the registry is a good way to break your computer and a poor way to speed it up.
    – David
    Nov 29, 2012 at 16:38
  • I should note that regardless of my reinstalls of Windows, it is still slower and does not perform as well. A laptop that I have even after a complete wipe will hardly run a web browser before I give up on it, proceed to shut down and have it get stuck trying to shut down. So, respectfully, I have hard time believing that hardware does not degrade over time/use.
    – Stephen R
    Nov 29, 2012 at 16:42
  • When you do the reinstall, you would be installing newer versions of everything. In general newer versions of software use more resources than previous versions.
    – EBGreen
    Nov 29, 2012 at 16:46

1 Answer 1


When the RAM on a computer is mostly filled up, the computer takes the part of the RAM that has been left unused for the longest period of time and transfers it to the paging file on your Hard Drive. The Hard drive is much, much slower then your RAM, which means that your computer will slow down if you have too many programs open. However, this is solved by simply closing the program that you are not using in order to free up space in the RAM.

The only long term thing that can happen from using the paging file too much is that your hard drive will crash, and this requires, really, really bad abuse, (or an old SSD with no wear leveling, which 99% likely, you don't have) way worse then what you are doing here. A slow computer is not a long term result of having stuff in your paging file.

From what I have read about it, Windows Ready boost might help. Other things you can do include uninstalling programs you are not using, defragmenting you Hard Drive, or simply buying more RAM. RAM is basically the cheapest way to make your computer faster, these days, every computer should have at least 2GB of RAM. I personally prefer 4GB, which is the maximum that a 32-bit system can support.

  • In my scenario, if the RAM is at about 50% usage the paging file is probably not in heavy use? I've been trying to find some solution as to why the computers that even after I reformat the drive, reinstall the OS clean start still doesn't seem to perform as well as when I pulled it out of the box. My imagination would like to blame it on electronmigration on the circuits so it would be a sort of funny answer but I have a hard time reasoning that on a relatively newer machine.
    – Stephen R
    Nov 29, 2012 at 16:54
  • I believe that the paging file starts to kick in at about 80% or greater usage, 50% RAM is normal. If the problem is persisting across multiple installs, you either have some kind of super-nasty root-kit or bad hardware. I would try downloading an Ubuntu LiveCD and see how fast that runs. If it's still slow, it's probably hardware. If it's faster you have some kind of rootkit. Also, does your computer crash lots?
    – David
    Nov 29, 2012 at 16:59
  • The OS itself hasn't crashed yet, but it is incredibly slow at times, often freezing up my programs for a minute or two (Not Responding). I have checked out the system resources and it doesn't seem to suggest that it is hung on a process - in fact most of the CPU seems to just be sitting on the idle process waiting to be used. Haven't tried Ubuntu live on the desktop I have been experiencing problems with yet, but I believe my lemon laptop even seemed to have a problem with running the installed copy of linux smoothly
    – Stephen R
    Nov 29, 2012 at 17:20
  • Also, just a bit of a side discussion in relation to ReadyBoost. I went ahead and dropped a flash drive on my desktop and set it to use it for cache. It's a slow flash drive only at 5MBps read/write but I think it may have increased the overall speed of the computer...though that could be my imagination or a slight change in usage of the computer. At what speed do you think it would be more inefficient to use a slow flash drive?
    – Stephen R
    Nov 29, 2012 at 17:23

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