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The paging file is used by Windows to manage situations where more memory is needed that is present. Not having one shouldn't impact speed.

If I turn off my paging file, I've heard that in most cases, it will actually slow down the computer rather than speed it up as it would logically seem to because of the way that memory is managed. Could you shed some light on that?

Windows memory management is complex, confusing, and the stuff of nightmares. And that's for the people who "understand" it. Smile

In this audio segment from an Ask Leo! webinar, I'll discuss paging files and virtual memory and why I don't see how not having a paging file could slow you down.

Listen:
Download the mp3 (3.5M)

Transcript

If I turn off my paging file, I've heard that in most cases, it will actually slow down the computer rather than speed it up as it would logically seem to because of the way that memory is managed. Could you shed some light on that?

This has in no way been my experience. The machine that I'm running right now that's hosting the virtual machine that you are looking at, has eight GB of RAM and I have no paging file and I have not noticed any issues.

I honestly cannot think of a memory management scenario where not having a paging file would slow you down. Clearly, whatever you end up writing to the paging file takes more time that it would to read or write it from RAM so I'm not sure what the details are.

Memory management is one of those things I've referred to as causing nightmares even to the people that understand how it works because it is that insanely complex. So I'm certainly not going to say absolutely not. But right now, I'm with you. I don't see how that could cause a problem or performance impact.

Sorry, but what's a paging file?

A paging file is your virtual memory. In fact, there are several different files on virtual memory. So a paging file, I think, is one of three or four different synonyms that all boil down to a file on disc that Windows uses kind of as 'fake' memory when it runs out of real memory.

So one of the things Windows can do, like I said I have eight GB of RAM on my machine. If the combination of programs I'm running, for whatever reason, require more than eight GB, Windows will start using the hard disc, this paging file on the hard disc to copy out some RAM, some real RAM to make it available for me. And then when the program that originally wanted what was in that RAM to begin with, needs it, then maybe the memory that I just requested will get written to hard disc and then the memory that the other program wanted gets read back to real RAM and it gets used for awhile.

I'll reference my earlier statement about memory management being insanely complicated. Virtual memory and paging files are indeed part of that complexity. Windows goes through a tremendous amount of effort to try and maximize the performance of the machine given all of the different programs that are running; priorities that they may have and options that it may have available to it like the paging file.

So, basically, I'd refer you to this article 'What is Virtual Memory?' for an overview of what it really means to be a paging file with the understanding that a paging file is really just a synonym for virtual memory.

Article C5295 - May 3, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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3 Comments
Bill F
May 4, 2012 8:38 AM

I can think of a couple things where not having a page file would slow you down.

If the file is not needed, no difference.

If the file is needed it is because the program cannot load code that is needed or needs more data space.
If that space is needed and there is not page file the program can do two things: shut down or do its own version of a page file.

Shutting down (or asking you to shut something else down to make room) will deffinately slow things down.

If the program needs to do its own version of a page file, they are not as intimately connected to the operating system as the one that comes with the operating system. I suspect that they can only swap parts of the memory that they were using instead of using memory that some program that is not active at the time is using. That would most likely require more swaps and slow things down.

Yehuda
May 4, 2012 9:08 AM

A warning: Some program, like certain versions of Photoshop, will not run if you have no pagefile. Many defragmenting tools will not run with no pagefile.

My recommendation is to set the pagefile to start very small (say 100 MB) and grow up to a slightly larger number (say 1024 MB). The old wisdom of setting you pagefile to 1.5 or 2 times the physical memory is certainly no longer true if you have 8 GB of memory.

Wayne in Indy
May 4, 2012 10:33 AM

I agree with the 1st two comments. Swap and Page files are to computer RAM, as a microscope is to our eyes. They make things look bigger than they are. This was totally necessary in the days when RAM was very expensive, relative to disk storage. No so much today. However, if you do run a huge program like Photoshop and open several multi-mega pixel photos, or try to open a massive multi-tab Excel spreadsheet, and do not have a Page file, your system will return a nasty error, or go into a deadlock (freeze) depending on the circumstance.

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