Brien Posey's Windows Blog

Nov 22 2008   2:32AM GMT

When Memory Shortages Rear Their Ugly Heads

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As someone who writes about networking for a living, it probably comes as no surprise to most of you that I’ve got my house jam packed with high end computers so that I can recreate various configurations that are typically used in enterprise environments. Even so, my desktop machine that I am writing this blog post on right now is a little bit… shall we say, dated?

It’s really not that bad. The machine is about three years old, but it was considered high end when I bought it. The fact that it only has two GB of RAM hasn’t really been an issue for me, because I don’t typically push this particular machine to the limit.

This week though, I have been working on some projects that are a bit out of the ordinary for me, and I have been placing a much heavier work load on the machine. What I have found is that Vista behaves really oddly when memory gets low.

In Windows XP, and in most previous versions of Windows, low memory causes the machine to slow down, and the hard disk starts thrashing as pages are swapped to virtual memory. This happens with Vista too, but my experience has been that there comes a point when Vista starts becoming “stupid”.

For example, I tried opening several different Web pages. The first four sites that I tried to go to would connect, but none of the site’s content would be displayed. When I tried to open yet another browser window, DNS connectivity failed. Somewhere in the midst of the chaos, Outlook lost its connectivity to my Exchange Server, and it started becoming very difficult to get Windows to close applications.

I’m not saying that these exact symptoms are going to occur any time that Vista gets low on memory. What I am saying is that if you are trying to troubleshoot a situation in which Windows Vista or Windows Server 2008 (which uses the same kernel as Vista) starts behaving erratically, then memory is the first thing that I would check.

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