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Paging file or Memory dump file

Do you know the difference between a Paging file or Memory dump file?

If you don't then you may be causing your Operating System to run slower than it normally should.


Paging file (PF) or swap file:

This is a dynamic file that the Operating System uses to store data when the physical amount of memory is exceeded with open programs and the data that the programs are using.

Suppose you have 256 Meg of ram in your computer. Now if you open your email, a word processor, and a browser then you computer just works along normally. Lets say you have a spread sheet and it is about twenty-five meg in size, when you open the spread sheet program and then the file it will increase in size to almost 100 Meg.

With all the programs, data, and Operating System files you have just exceeded the maximum physical memory and your computer will either hang or crash. How to get around this dilemma?

One way is to use a file to store idle programs and data, a file called pagefile.sys. Now the Operating system will utilize the Paging file. It will take any idle program and the data from that program and place it in the Paging file until you 'activate' the program again, that is  when you move from one program to another.

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So you have your spread sheet open and are working along, then you decide you don't have enough information. You need to ask a co-worker for more information so you click on your email program and wait, and wait. What is happening is the OS is paging out the spread sheet program and data for the email program and data.

This is one of the draw backs of a computer with the minimum recommended  installed memory. the only way around this is to increase the physical memory in the computer. When enough of the spread sheet data has been moved from physical memory to the Paging file, it then brings back the email data. Then you can send your email.

Your other option in a case such as this is to close all programs then open the spread sheet program. Even then it may have to paging out parts of the data for the spread sheet, thus making it a slow process to complete a task when the physical memory is to low.

However on a system that has sufficient or excessive memory (over two gig) the paging file (or Paging File) may be so large that it becomes unwieldy and takes a long time to load and unload large amounts of data.

Microsoft recommends a paging file (or Paging file) to be the size of the physical memory plus 1.5 times that amount. so if you have a computer with 512 Meg of memory you paging file would be 512 + 768 to total 1280 Meg. 

This is fine, but consider some one with a newer computer where the minimum memory is 2 gig. You would say the paging file should be 2 + 3 gig of memory making the paging file 5 gig. This is a very large file and Microsoft does not recommend a paging file larger the 2 gig, and you have all ready met that with the physical memory alone. So what can you do? Well for one thing you could split the paging file up, that is make three paging files, two 2 gig files and one 1 gig file. Since Service Pack 3 for XP this unwieldy size for a paging file has been resolved, you can have up to a 16 GB paging file.

Now you have a problem. The problem is the swap file has to have a certain name: pagefile.sys, this is a system file that resides at the root of the drive and is hidden (if you know how to change file attributes you can see the file) from everyday users. 

Also there can only be one file by this name present at any time on the root of the drive, you can not give the file a different name such as: pagefile2.sys, this will not work because the OS has the name pagefile.sys written in the code.

So to get around this problem you have two options:

The first option will slow your computer down to a preverbal crawl - Make one 5 gig swap file and place it on the C: drive. This is the way it is done when you install the OS mainly because the Installation program has the rule written in to the code and it does not look for any other volumes so you have this humongous pagefile.sys sitting on the C: drive and when the OS needs to swap out some data it is very slow.

For XP with Service Pack 2 and lower only: The second option requires you have more than one volume on your hard drive. That is you have other drives visible in My Computer, a D: drive and possibly a E: drive this is still a little bit of conundrum, you still need one more drive: F:

Why three drives?

Well you don't but if you want your computer to be as fast as possible (with the newer drives coming on line this may be a thing of the past but they aren't here yet) to do so you would want to remove the pagefile.sys from the drive the OS is installed on. So with a 5 gig swap file you would ideally need 3 drives to split the pagefile.sys up.

Such as:

D: - 2 gig pagefile.sys

E - 2 gig pagefile.sys

F: - 1 gig pagefile.sys

This is the ideal way to take care of a large swap file. Or you could go with two swap files of 2 gig each and only have to have one more volume to put the pagefile.sys on, D: if you opt to have the first pagefile.sys on the C: drive, this doesn't meet the Microsoft criteria of physical memory plus 1.5 five times the physical memory but does work, I have used this method on servers in the past.

For XP with Service Pack 3, Vista, and Windows 7 you can make one file the size recommended by Microsoft.

So to get the best performance from your computer your swap file should be the proper size and be located on a drive or drives other than the C: drive. For more information on how to change your swap file see Virtual Memory on this page,

Memory Dump file:

When you load Microsoft's Windows Operating System starting at Windows 3.1 the install program loaded an option for Debugging and Error isolation by Microsoft. To get the necessary information when a 'Stop' error occurred a procedure is written in to the code of the Operating System that triggers a 'write to disk' of the physical memory. This is known as a dump file.

Note: This dump file will only be written if the Operating System completely loads before the error. If the OS is 'Blue Screening' before the OS loads the dump file can not be written.

Now this is all well and good for developers and testers but what good is it to you?

If and this is a very large if, you have a software and / or hardware conflict or failure that causes your computer to shut down you want to know how to fix it, correct? But what if the error is intermittent or only occurs when you have a certain program running?

What can you do? You can set up the dump file to run when the OS detects the error and have the file made before the OS restarts the computer.

Now this comes with a couple grains of salt: Only Microsoft or Microsoft Certified vendors have the program to read the dump file, it is formatted as raw data, in other words it is the bytes that make up the memory at the time of the error or conflict that caused the OS to restart.

Because this is a raw data dump of memory it is the complete physical memory and the memory in the processor cache it will be quite large (especially if you have over a gig of memory), or if you set it you can have a dump of the kernel memory only (this is the memory being used by the processor and the cache memory only) then it will be up to five meg.

Another thing to consider is with a full memory dump is if the dump can be completed on the drive that you have selected for the dump file, if for instance you select the default, it will be the OS drive (normally C:) and you did not know that the file would be two gig in size when it was made and you did not plan on the computer having a problem so you have not allocated the extra space for the file, and to top it off the C: drive only has one gig of free space.

Now your problem has increased proportionally to a point where you can not keep the computer running long enough to clean off sufficient space for the dump file.

If you are having problems with gaining enough space to create the dump file consider writing it to another drive, in the box 'Dump file' you can specify a different drive and name for the dump file, if the check box for ' Overwrite  any existing file' is checked it will over write any previous dump file, if you want a history (some times a software vendor's support would like more than one file) then uncheck this box and the process will write the memory dump files such as: MEMORY.DMP, MEMORY1.DMP, MEMORY2.DMP.

This is useful for a history of a problem. Just be certain the drive you are writing to has sufficient space for all these files. And Microsoft doesn't teach this in their certification programs.

So when you setup your dump file if you chose to do so consider the ramifications of the size of the file in two ways: The time it will take to write it to disk and the space required to hold the file when it is written. (see this page about optimization)

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Why turn off the memory dump option?

The different types of Dump files:

You can have:
  • (none)
  • Small memory dump (64 Kb)
  • Kernel memory dump
  • Complete memory dump

Be aware the if you select none, you get none, but there is a trade off - you use less system resources.

If you select a 'Small memory dump  file (64 KB) or 'Kernel memory dump  file' then the vendor or Microsoft may not be able to isolate your problem. If you have a problem that you want to pay Microsoft to diagnose and give you a fix for they will request a 'Complete memory dump  file' and will charge you by the hour to analyze the file, unless you have a maintenance contract that includes debugging of a Memory dump file.

Most large corporations have this type of contact. It doesn't pay for an individual or a small business to have this type of contract because it runs in five to six figures per year.

For normal operations you can get away with out having a dump file. Unless it is a server I setup most systems as none, and remove the check boxes from the 'Write an event of the system log' and 'Send an administrative alert' the reason is that unless you are doing development or debugging software the normal user will not crash a system often enough to justify the over head that this option adds to the system resources.

If you do have a problem you can always turn the memory dump file option on and get the dump file, just insure your drive has the space for the file. Some vendors will request the file if you are having a problem with their software and open a support ticket.

My advice? Turn it off, if you have a problem then select the type of file the support tech is asking for.

Now you can identify the difference between a Paging file or Memory dump file ...

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