Add RAM to Your Laptop to Prevent Virtual Memory Disk Swapping

By Dan Gookin

One way that the laptop’s mass storage conspires with the operating system to drain the battery quickly is when the virtual memory manager pulls a disk swap. The way to prevent it is to add memory (RAM) to your laptop.

Virtual memory has nothing to do with virtue. Instead, it’s a chunk of storage space that Windows uses to help supplement real memory, or RAM. Mass chunks of information are swapped between RAM and your laptop’s storage, which is why you never see any Out of Memory errors in Windows. But all that memory swapping drains the battery.

Windows does a great job of managing virtual memory. Although you can fine-tune the virtual memory manager, it’s not recommended. Instead, test the virtual memory manager this way:

  1. Run three or four of your most-often-used programs or apps.

    Start up each program and get its window up and ready on the screen, just as though you’re about to work on something. In fact, you can even load a document or whatever, to ensure that the program is occupied.

  2. Watch the hard drive light; wait for it to stop blinking.

    Wait until the hard drive light on the laptop stops blinking. That means hard drive access has stopped and the computer is simply waiting.

  3. Press Alt+Esc.

    The Alt+Esc key combination switches from one program (or window) to another.

  4. Watch the hard drive light.

  5. Repeat Steps 3 and 4 until you cycle through all programs and windows at least once.

    What you’re looking for is hard drive access. If you detect a noticeable pause or the hard drive light blinks as you switch between programs, it can be a sign that virtual memory is being used, by swapping from RAM to disk. Yes, your system is working harder than it should, and it affects battery life.

The idea isn’t really to adjust virtual memory as much as it is to add RAM to your laptop and prevent virtual memory from ever taking over in the first place.

If your laptop lacks a hard drive access light, simply pay attention to how Windows behaves. Do you see a pause as you switch programs? Is the keyboard acting sluggish? If so, you’re witnessing memory being written to and read from the laptop’s storage. That action drains the battery.

Although not every laptop is capable of a RAM expansion, if yours is, consider adding more memory as a worthy undertaking.