Many companies want to sell you “memory optimizers,” often as part of “PC optimization” programs. These programs are worse than useless — not only will they not speed up your computer, they’ll slow it down.
Such programs take advantage of inexperienced users, making false promises about boosting performance. In reality, your computer knows how to manage RAM on its own. It will use RAM to increase your computer’s performance — there’s no point in having RAM sit empty.
Is Your Computer’s RAM Filling Up? That’s Good!
Memory optimizers are based on a misunderstanding. You may look at your computer’s RAM and see it filling up — for example, you may have 4 GB of RAM and see that 3 GB is full with only 1 GB to spare. That can be surprising to some people — look how bloated modern versions of Windows are! How are you ever going to run additional programs with so little memory available?
In reality, modern operating systems are pretty good at managing memory on their own. That 3 GB of used RAM doesn’t necessarily indicate waste. Instead, your computer uses your RAM to cache data for faster access. Whether it’s copies of web pages you had open in your browser, applications you previously opened, or any other type of data you might need again soon, your computer hangs onto it in its RAM. When you need the data again, your computer doesn’t have to hit your hard drive — it can just load the files from RAM.
Crucially, there’s no point in having RAM empty. Even if your RAM is completely full and your computer needs more of it to run an application, your computer can instantly discard the cached data from your RAM and use that space for the application. There’s no point in having RAM sit empty — if it’s empty, it’s being wasted. If it’s full, there’s a good chance it can help speed up program loading times and anything else that would use your computer’s hard drive.
Notice that very little RAM is actually “free” in the screenshot below. The RAM is being used as a cache, but it’s still marked as available for any program that needs to use it.
In the past, full RAM did indicate a problem. If you were running Windows Vista on a computer with half a gig of RAM, you could feel the computer constantly slowing down — it had to constantly read and write to the hard drive, using the hard drive’s page file as an inefficient replacement for RAM. However, modern computers generally have enough RAM for most users. Even low-end computers generally ship with 4GB of RAM, which should be more than enough unless you’re doing intensive gaming, running multiple virtual machines, or editing videos.
Even if RAM was a problem for you, there’s no reason to use a memory optimizer. Memory optimizers are snake oil that are useless at best and harmful at worst.
How Memory Optimizers Work
When you use a memory optimizer, you’ll see your computer’s RAM usage go down. This may seem like an easy win — you’ve decreased RAM usage just be pressing a button, after all. But it’s not that simple.
Memory optimizers actually work in one of two ways:
- They call the EmptyWorkingSet Windows API function, forcing running applications to write their working memory to the Windows page file.
- They quickly allocate a large amount of memory to themselves, forcing Windows to discard cached data and write application data to the page file. They then deallocate the memory, leaving it empty.
Both of these tricks will indeed free up RAM, making it empty. However, all this does is slow things down — now the applications you use will have to get the data they need from the page file, reading from the hard drive and taking longer to work. Any memory being used for cache may be discarded, so Windows will have to get the data it needs from the hard drive.
In other words, these programs free up fast memory by forcing data you need onto slower memory, where it will have to be moved back to fast memory again. This makes no sense! All it accomplishes is selling you another system optimization program you don’t need.
If Windows needs RAM, it will push data to the page file or discard cached data, anyway. This all happens automatically when it needs to — there’s no point in slowing things down by forcing it to happen before it’s necessary.
Like PC cleaning apps, memory optimizers are a scam. They appear to be doing something positive to people who don’t understand how memory management works, but they’re actually doing something harmful.
How to Actually “Optimize” Your Memory
If you do want to have more available RAM, skip the memory optimizer. Instead, try to get rid of running applications you don’t need — purge unnecessary programs from your system tray, disable useless startup programs, and so on.
If you do need more RAM for what you do, try buying some more RAM. RAM is pretty cheap and it’s not too hard to install it yourself using one of the RAM installing guides available online. Just ensure you buy the correct type of RAM for your computer.
Yes, memory optimizers can free up some of your PC’s RAM. However, that’s a bad thing — you want your computer to use its RAM to speed things up. There’s no point in having free memory.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 08/31/13