How to Increase Virtual Memory in Windows XP

by Kammy Pow

Programs that run under Windows XP go through a continuous process of reading and writing code and data between the hard drive and physical memory to improve system efficiency. Physical random access memory, or RAM, stores the parts of a program that are in active use and relegates open, but inactive, programs and data to virtual memory, which is the portion of the hard drive designated as temporary memory. When there is not enough virtual or RAM available to an active program, your program can slow down drastically or a STOP error can result and lead to a blue screen. Learning to manage virtual memory in Windows XP can help prevent such errors.

Find out how much RAM your computer has by right-clicking on "My Computer" from the Start menu and selecting "Properties." Write down the amount of RAM noted on the "General" tab.

Select the "Advanced" tab in the System Properties dialog and click on the "Settings" button under the Performance section. Alternatively, you can access the system properties through Control Panel on the Start menu.

Select the "Advanced" tab in the Performance dialog and click on "Change" under the virtual memory section.

Choose the hard drive volume on which you wish to customize the paging file. A summary of the current settings will appear below. To allow Windows XP to manage the paging file size, check "System managed size." Otherwise, click on "Custom size" and enter the file size in megabytes in the "Initial size (MB)" or "Maximum size (MB)" box. Microsoft recommends that you set the minimum size to 1.5 times the amount of physical RAM in the system and set the maximum size to three times the amount of RAM.

Click the "Set" button when you have established your paging file size and then click on "OK" to exit the virtual memory settings. Click on "OK" to apply your changes and close the System Properties dialog box.

Shut down and restart your computer when prompted to do so to allow the page file settings to take place.


  • While the paging file is stored by default as "pagefile.sys" on the C: drive, it is possible to set paging files across other drives. Remember that the total virtual memory across all drives should be equivalent to at least 1.5 times the amount of RAM in the system.


  • You must have administrative rights on the computer before you can make changes to the virtual memory settings.
  • Also, you should keep a page file of at least 50MB to 200MB on the C: drive to be used in an emergency or in the event of a kernel dump.

About the Author

Kammy Pow studied biological sciences at the University of California Irvine. She spent 13 years as a programmer for the financial, medical research, and healthcare sectors. She has been freelancing since 2005 and currently writes health-care related material and pens the occasional review for Southern California altweeklies.

Photo Credits

  • Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images News/Getty Images