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I've seen discussions go back and forth on this on several sites, so maybe we can come up with something definitive here.

I have 8 GB memory on my Vista x64 workstation. Do I need a page file (that is, System Properties > Advanced > Performance Settings > Advanced Virtual Memory) and is it beneficial to have one or not have one? What is the impact on stability?

Thanks

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4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The pagefile is used for a few other things that may be handy. For example, it is used for crash dumps if Windows crashes. So troubleshooting errors may become a lot harder. Also, some applications depend on the existence of a pagefile.

The real question is why wouldn't you have a pagefile? Can't you afford the few GB of disk space it takes up? As long as you let Windows manage the pagefile size, performance will be the same. It simply won't use the pagefile during general use.

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That makes sense. I remember back in the XP days that if you had a lot of RAM, Windows didn't really seem to care, but it seems with Vista that's changed. –  Daniel Moore May 9 '09 at 20:17
    
Why wouldn't you have a page file? Because paging to and from disk is expensive and slows things down. I'm not a Vista expert, but I'd bet a cookie or two that it proactively pages memory to disk so as to keep memory free. And when one needs those pages on disk back in memory, one has to wait. –  Stu Thompson May 10 '09 at 10:48
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@Stu, Have you benchmarked this at all? Is Microsoft so incompetent at operating system design that you can improve the system with a few mouse clicks? This whole page file thing is the biggest bike shed argument ever. You're trusting them to do a billion things right that you don't understand, why don't you trust them on this one? –  Jeremy Huiskamp May 11 '09 at 7:40
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@Jeremy I am not a big fan of Microsoft bashing but I have to jump in here. Memory management as part of an operating systems is one of things Microsoft does well - remember that the NT Kernel is really 2nd Generation VMS (roll the letters - WNT) and it was created by David Cutler who wrote some awesome code. So bash away on the extraneous crap like IE 7 or IE 8 bundling in with the OS but try and respect the good parts of Windows NT 5.0 (Windows 2000) or 5.1 (XP) or 5.2 (Vista) or 6.0 (Windows 2003), etc. –  Rob Bergin Jun 1 '09 at 14:23
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Personaly, I haven't run with one for quite some time now, i've never used enough memory that its become neccassery so its of, and its not caused me any problems.

That said, there are some applications that don't work well without a page file, photoshop for example, so if your running these you may need atleast some page file.

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There is an interesting article on Tom's Hardware:

Does No Swap File Equal Better Performance?

[...] Again, we conducted this test with RAM sizes ranging from 8 GB to 512 MB. While working without a paging file was possible without any problems with 8 GB, the situation quickly became critical with less memory installed.

With 8 GB and no swap file, the system was fine. Even in some memory intensive scenarios such as opening files in Photoshop CS3 with a total file size of 3 GB, the system remained very responsive and even snappy, never writing to disk once.

Note: Microsoft does not recommend setting the paging file below 400 MB:

alt text

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Little known element of this: setting a swapfile in NT 4 to something ridiculously small results in a system crash. Yeah, no-one uses NT 4 anymore, but if you ever want to try it for giggles, try a fresh install, then reset the swap to say, 4megs. Then reboot and watch the fireworks as the system takes a faceplant. –  Avery Payne May 10 '09 at 19:01
    
Yes, I remember this one. A friend of mine did that and almost killed his machine. –  splattne May 10 '09 at 19:27
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If you don't run out of RAM, you'll be fine without a page file. With 8GB, it's unlikely that you'll run out of physical memory. If you do, however, things will quickly go down hill. Instead of your computer slowing down (as it's paging to disk), you'll get random app crashes (as malloc fails).

Without a page file, Windows will also be unable to eject program memory to disk in favor of things like file caches. Whether this makes a difference or not would depend on how you use your PC.

All in all, I don't think you'd see any improvement in overall use - but the downside is pretty minimal as well (since you have 8GB).

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