Random Access Memory (RAM) provides your computer with storage space for application processes. RAM is often called "physical memory," which is different than virtual memory stored on the computer's hard drive. The physical memory shown in the Windows Task Manager is the physical memory that is installed and available. When physical memory fills to capacity, the computer switches to virtual memory to store the application process information.
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Each computer contains physical memory installed. The amount of physical memory installed plays a role in the performance of the machine. Because physical memory is faster than virtual memory, a computer that has limited physical memory is forced to use virtual memory. This slows the computer's performance, and can cause it to crash. The physical memory identifier in Task Manager helps you identify if limited physical memory is the issue on a slow computer.
After the user has Task Manager open, several statistics are shown, which help identify performance issues. CPU processes, physical memory available and virtual memory used are a few of the numbers shown. The physical memory shown in Task Manager is in kilobytes. Therefore, the user must convert kilobytes to megabytes to determine how much physical memory is available. Approximately 1,000 kilobytes equal a megabyte.
The two types of physical memory shown in Task Manager are "available" and "total." The available number displays how much memory the user has available for system processes. If this number is low (less than a few megabytes), then more memory is helpful for system performance. The "total" number displays how much physical memory is actually installed. This number should match the physical memory installed in the computer when the machine was purchased.
Damage or corrupted physical memory can lead to computer crashes. In severe instances, the computer is unable to boot and inoperable. Operating systems and add-on software have a list of minimum requirements. Before loading these applications onto a machine, the user should have the minimum amount of physical memory installed on the machine.
RAM and virtual memory are not alike. RAM is a fast, volatile storage unit. This means that it interacts directly with the computer's central processing unit, but the information is lost as soon as you power off the machine. Virtual memory is stored on the hard drive. The file used for virtual memory is stored by the operating system. Storage on the hard drive is permanent until the user decides to manually delete it.
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