Windows

Take advantage of tools to monitor memory usage in Windows 7

With Windows 7, there are some slight, but notable, changes in the way that memory usage is reported on the Performance tab of the Task Manager. Greg Shultz takes a closer look at the changes on Task Manager's Performance tab and investigates the Physical Memory usage chart.

Ever since I discovered how to use the Windows 9x's Resource Meter to keep track of system resources and prevent system crashes caused by depleting system resources when running more than one application at a time, I've made good use of Windows monitoring tools.

Over the years Microsoft has vastly improved the primitive Resource Meter and increasingly made it easier to see what is going on with the operating system's use of memory. With Windows 7, I've discovered some slight, but notable, changes in the way that memory usage is reported on the Performance tab of the Task Manager. I have also noticed a very nice chart in the new Resource Monitor that provides very detailed information on physical memory usage at a glance.

In this issue of the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report, I'll take a closer look at the changes on Task Manager's Performance tab and investigate the Physical Memory usage chart.

Note: Keep in mind that this is a Beta version and that the look and features of Windows 7 that I will discuss here may very well change between now and the time the operating system is actually released.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

Taking a look back

To help you to appreciate the memory usage information in Windows 7 and to put the evolution of Windows resource monitoring into perspective, I thought I would begin by taking a quick look back at Windows 9x's Resource Meter. Once you have Resource Meter up and running, you can hover the mouse pointer over the icon and you will see a pop-up display that breaks down the amount of available system resources into its three categories: System, User, and GDI, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Hovering the mouse pointer over the Resource Meter icon produces a display of the currently available system resources in three categories.
If you double-click the icon, you will see the Resource Meter dialog box, shown in Figure B. As you can see, this display used three gas gauge-like monitors to show you the amount of available system resources in each category.

Figure B

The Resource Meter's display uses three gas gauge-like monitors to show you the amount of available system resources in each category.
Because resource management was horrible in the Windows 9x days, system crashes were inevitable. If you kept your eye on the Resource Meter icon, you could literally watch the amount of system resources depleted as you worked. As you can see in Figure C, the green bars would move down and change to yellow and then to red right before the system crashed.

Figure C

This is the evolution of a system crash caused by the depletion of system resources.

The Task Manager Performance tab

When you compare the Performance tab in Windows 7's Task Manager to the one in Vista, as shown in Figure D, you'll notice a few changes in the statistics sections. First, in the Physical Memory section, you'll see that there is now a measurement showing the amount of available memory. While in Vista you can easily deduce the amount of available memory by subtracting the Total value from the Cached value. It is nice to be able to tell at a glance just how much physical memory is currently available to the system.

Figure D

Comparing Vista's and 7's Performance tab reveals a few slight, but noteworthy, changes.

Of course, the Total entry shows the amount of RAM installed in the system. The Cached entry indicates the amount of physical memory used recently for system resources. (This memory will remain in the cache in case the system resources are needed again, but it's available should other operations need it.) The new Available entry indicates the amount of physical memory that is currently not being used. The Free entry indicates the amount of memory being used in the cache that does not contain useful information.

The Kernel Memory section now shows only the amount of Paged and Nonpaged memory. The Paged and Nonpaged entries break down the total amount of memory being used by the kernel and show you how much is coming from virtual memory and how much is coming from physical memory, respectively. The Total entry, which was essentially useless here, has been removed.

In the System section, you'll find the same measurements found in Vista; however, the Page File item has been renamed to Commit. (Windows XP called this same measurement the Commit Charge and dedicated an entire section to it.) This measurement still shows Page File usage. Here, the first number indicates the total amount of physical and virtual memory currently in use, while the second number indicates the total amount of physical and virtual memory available on your computer.

The Handles and Threads entries are rather obscure and are actually sub-objects of processes. The Handles entry shows the number of object identifiers, or handles, that are currently in use by all the running processes. The Threads entry actually refers to the number of subprocesses running inside larger processes. The Processes entry, of course, represents the number of currently running processes. As you know, you can see each of the currently running processes by selecting the Processes tab.

The Up Time entry is still a nice piece of information that shows the amount of time that has passed since the computer has been restarted.

The Resource Monitor Memory tab

To access the Resource Monitor, just click the button on the Performance tab in Windows 7's Task Manager. Then, select the Memory tab in the Resource Monitor. When you do, you'll see the newly revamped interface, shown in Figure E. While the three graphs on the side are a nice new feature and show regularly updated graphs, the Physical Memory usage chart is stunning in that it provides an extremely intuitive picture of memory usage.

Figure E

The Physical Memory usage chart provides a very easy to understand picture of memory usage.
If you do the math, you can see the chart accounts for every bit of memory installed in the system. Table A identifies each section of the chart. If you subtract the amount reserved for hardware, you get the Total. If you add the Standby and Free, you get the Available to Programs total.

Table A

Hardware Reserved Memory that is reserved for use by the BIOS and some drivers for other peripherals.
In Use Memory used by process working sets, drivers, nonpaged pools, and operating system functions.
Modified Memory whose contents must be to disk before it can be used for another purpose.
Standby Memory that contains cached data and code that is not actively in use.
Free Memory that does not contain any valuable data and that will be used first when processes or the operating system needs more memory.

What's your take?

Are you a memory watcher? What do you think of the changes on Task Manager's Performance tab and Resource Monitor's Physical Memory usage chart? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear from you.

TechRepublic's Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report newsletter, delivered every Friday, offers tips, news, and scuttlebutt on Vista and Windows 7, including a look at new features in the latest version of the Windows OS. Automatically sign up today!

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

9 comments
tungle
tungle

Hi Greg, it seems you are a geek, can you help me with this? I have two installation of Windows 7 64bit on two partitions, one is fresh install, the other is upgrade from Vista64bit (to keep all programs). In the first case, I have 4gb (full capacity), however the second case shows 4gb but only 2gb usable. My mainboard doesn't have 'memory remapping' but I guess I don't need to change anything in BIOS because the first case works. You got any idea how to fix the first case, since reinstalling every apps would be a pain. I put the two configurations here for reference: + Fresh install: Installed Physical Memory (RAM) 4.00 GB Total Physical Memory 4.00 GB Available Physical Memory 2.90 GB Total Virtual Memory 7.99 GB Available Virtual Memory 6.78 GB Page File Space 4.00 GB Page File C:\pagefile.sys Resource monitor showing: hardware reserved 2 mb In use 1309 mb modified 69 mb standby 812 mb free 1894 mb Available 2703 mb cached 887mb Total 4094 mb Installed 4096 mb + Upgrade from vista64 (the troublesome install): Installed Physical Memory (RAM) 4.00 GB Total Physical Memory 2.00 GB Available Physical Memory 1.11 GB Total Virtual Memory 4.00 GB Available Virtual Memory 2.96 GB Page File Space 2.00 GB Page File C:\pagefile.sys Resource monitor showing: hardware reserved 2049 mb In use 846 mb modified 66 mb standby 583 mb free 520 mb Available 1132 mb cached 715mb Total 2047 mb Installed 4096 mb

lmenningen
lmenningen

First, some clarifications: 1. In the paragraph "The Task Manager Performance Tab", the phrase "subtracting the Total value from the Cached value..." needs correction. 2. In the paragraph under Figure E, the sentence "If you subtract the amount reserved for hardware, you get the Total." needs clarification. Questions, perhaps a future blog? 1. Given that Page Faults are more or less to be expected, what use can be made of the Page Faults column under the Processes tab? 2. What is the difference between Memory (Private Working Set) and Commit Size?

Pazman
Pazman

It was nice in XP to be able to see the High Water Mark of memory usage, labeled as 'Peak' in the Commit Charge section. This provided a nice snapshot of how much memory may have actually been used at some point, and is helpful in determining if you need to add more physical RAM to a system (if Peak > physical, buy more physical to avoid using swap). Is there a way to dispaly this in Windows 7/Vista?

Slayer_
Slayer_

We can get a detailed view as to why it is such a big pig.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What do you think of the Windows 7 changes on Task Manager's Performance tab and Resource Monitor's Physical Memory usage chart?

russ56441
russ56441

Use the freeware MaxMem to monitor your memory usage. It appears in the system tray and shows the usage and available memory. With just a click it will clear out any junk areas of memory that are no longer useful and give them back to you. If Microsoft would have written proper code and addressed the memory problem we wouldn't be talking about this.

iwizzard
iwizzard

Is it possible to record memory usage in the background, so you can see how much memory that was used right before a crash? not a duplicate

Editor's Picks