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There is frequent access to the hard disk when working within Windows, even without actually performing file operations. For example, frequent disk access when swapping between open applications

Explanation: The system seems to be going to the hard disk a lot, even when you are working only with items that are already in memory. For example, when scrolling up and down in a large file, there may be a pause while the hard disk is activated. You may especially notice it when swapping between applications.

Diagnosis: The most usual cause of this sort of behavior is what is called thrashing. This refers to the excessive use of virtual memory paging to compensate for having insufficient real physical memory to hold all of the applications and data that are in use. Especially if you are using many applications or large files, and also if there isn't a great deal of real memory in the PC, the operating system will have to move some of the contents of memory to the hard disk when it runs out of space. Then, when you need whatever was swapped to disk, it is loaded and something else is swapped to the disk. This is a supply and demand situation; the only way to resolve it is to increase the supply of real memory, or reduce the demand created by applications and data open simultaneously.


  • Read this section on virtual memory and this section on choosing a sensible memory size for the operating system and application you are using.
  • If you can afford to do so, upgrade the amount of physical memory in the system, especially if you don't have enough memory in the PC for optimal performance based on your operating system. Memory is cheap today and it provides great performance improvement in many cases.
  • Consult this section of the Optimization Guide for suggestions on optimizing the virtual memory setup of your system. These simple steps can greatly improve performance at no cost.
  • Reduce the number of applications running in the system, and reduce the number of data files you have open. If you are finished using something, close it to free up memory for programs you are still using.
  • Cut down on the number of "toys" that load automatically when the system starts up. The more automatic utilities, scheduling reminder programs, memory-resident tools and other gadgets that load when the system starts up, the less memory that is available for "real" applications, and the more likely that thrashing will occur.

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