How big should I set my page file?

Here’s the scene:

You’re sitting in the hot seat on Who Want’s to Be a Millionaire and Regis Philbin looks at you and says:

“Well, it looks like we’re going for a million dollars! I can’t believe it!”

But here’s the thing: you have zero lifelines, you’re full of trepidation and enervated by all the questions you’ve been answering.

Your fingers are twitching, your forehead is sweating and your mouth is so parched you feel like you just hiked through the Sahara.  Before you can catch your breath, Regis points at the camera and in great exuberance shouts “Let’s go for the million!”

The stage lights dim and the familiar heart beat sound that ripples angst through the spines of every contestant starts to echo through the speakers on set:

Here’s the question:

“According to Microsoft, how big should your page file or swap partition be?”

The clock is ticking… and Google isn’t allowed…

A few months ago I told you everything you need to know about the Windows page file.  Today I want to clarify how large the page file should be.

Let’s get straight to the point:

According to Microsoft, your page file should either be thrice your RAM or 4GB; whichever is larger.

Wait, what is the page file again?

I’m glad you asked.

The page file is Microsoft’s way of keeping your computer happy when your greedy applications slurp up your delicious RAM.

RAM is a delectable resource for applications.  It’s what gives life to an application.  No RAM = no Programs.  So programs are constantly vying for, contending for, battling for RAM (physical memory).

And that’s understandable but what happens when you run out of physical memory?

Without a page file you’re computer would crash hard when it reached the upper memory limit.

Introducing the Windows 8.1 Page file

The page file basically becomes virtual memory because Windows treats it like physical RAM even though it’s just a file sitting in your system root.

As you kill off your avaricious apps, Windows releases the data in pagefile.sys back into the faster, nimbler more flexible system RAM.

Crash and dump baby

The page file is also used for crash dumps.

Despite the hilarity of sounding like someone who has a mean case of the runs, crash dumps have absolutely nothing to do with the stomach-churning act of “taking a dump”.

Crash dumps are related to the mercurial world of blue screens.

Sometimes when your PC is pissed off it’ll regurgitate a sloppy mess of hexadecimal and illegible white text against an electric blue background.

This is the bane of every geek.  We’ve all seen and shrieked from the infamous Blue Screen of Death (BSOD).

In order for Windows to dump the entire contents of memory to the file for analysis, the page file must be at least the size of your physical memory plus 1MB (for a header).  So if you have 8 gigaroos of RAM you would need to set your page file to at least 8.001GBs.

If you need to do a kernel memory dump, the page file should be 400MB if you have less than 8GBs of RAM or 800MB if you have more than 8GB of RAM.

Incidentally, in case you were wondering, a kernel memory dump is when you forget to pull the popcorn from the microwave during a movie date.  he kernels burn, you dump it in the trash, and your girlfriend dumps you for being a dolt.  But who needs her anyway!  You knew what you were doing! Can’t a guy make a mistake every now and then!?

haha, okay let me quit.

The reason the kernel memory dump needs a smaller page file is because it only includes memory allocated to the Windows kernel (the low-level program that bridges the hardware and software) during the time of the crash.  In many cases it’s better than the full memory dump, not only because it consumes less space but also because it truncates irrelevant information and can make crash dump analysis easier.  It usually lives here:

%SystemRoot%\Memory.dmp

Alright, so here’s the deally.

The size of your page file is ultimately contingent on how you use your computer.

If you’re a graphics designer with Adobe Premiere CC and Adobe After Effects CC loaded you’ll have different requirements than granny who checking the latest bingo scores.

If all you do is surf the sparkling waters of web, fire angry emails to your boss and spy on your ex-girlfriends in Facebook then you probably don’t need to tweak anything. (although you probably need a life)

To be honest, Windows does a really good job handling all this page file business for you.  You don’t even need to think about it.

The only small tip I can suggest is to consider storing pagefile.sys on a disparate hard drive.  Since Windows will read and write the contents of memory to your hard drive it makes sense to store it on a separate hard drive to mollify the load of your primary disk.

I’m still curious

If you’re an inquisitive geekoid like me you probably still want to see where you can modify how much space Windows allocates to the page file.

Press the Windows Key + w and type “windows performance”.

Click the Advanced tab and check out the total paging file size for all drives.  Remember the value is in MB so to estimate GB just divide it by a thousand.

Advanced Performance Options in Windows 8.1

Click the Change button to see the whole shebang

Virtual Memory in Windows 8.1

The Bottom Line

Let Windows handle your page file.

It’s really not a big deal.  In fact, according to Eric Vaughan of Tweakhound, after 20 hours of test and 32 hours of rigorous benchmarking, he didn’t see any discernible difference between having a pagefile or not.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is: stop worrying about your freggin’ pagefiles!  The only time you need to know the answer is when you’re sitting in the hot seat of Who Want’s to be a Millionaire.

But now you know it right?  So go out there and kick some butt.

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Posted in Windows, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 Tagged with: ,