- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2001

If there ever was a truism that applied to computers, "you learn something new every day" might be it. Hardly 24 hours pass without my learning something about the PC on which I work, or the software I use. And don't even mention the Internet there's something new there every second.

But it is the PC I want to address today, and to share with you some insights on how we might make the most of the memory we have. This is, however, intended for Windows users; those with Macs and other systems face their own challenges, although the Mac and Linux operating systems seem to be a tad better in this regard.

Or are they? It turns out that Windows, whether Win98, Windows ME or Windows 2000, is very good at managing memory it's often the users who are frazzling the poor PC by asking it to do, or carry, too much.

Memory availability isn't merely affected by the operating system you use, or the applications you have open. Some folks might be fine at 64 Mbytes of RAM, while others OK, me can "choke" with 384 Mbytes installed. (As a rule, however, I do recommend a minimum of 128 Mbytes of RAM in a Windows system.)

What happens? The culprit often is something called "system resources," which is essentially RAM dedicated to various functions in your computer. These include things such as video drivers, network connectors and the like. It also includes all those tiny little icons usually found in the lower right-hand corner of your screen, to the left of the clock. Yes, the system tray may hold the answer.

Many programs themselves, or some of their components, take up residence in your system tray, hoping for a free ride. Some are, frankly, essential if you use a Palm-based PDA, it's a good idea to have the "HotSync Manager" loaded so you can synchronize data between the PC and your handheld. Your printer, especially if it's a multifunction device, might appreciate having its software loaded. The same for an anti-virus program, or one that detects the type of CD (data or music) loaded in a given drive.

But beyond that and perhaps one or two others unique to your situation most of what's in the system tray can slow you down. You might not know it until it hits you, hard, between the eyes. The s-l-o-w, p-o-k-e-y redrawing of your computer screen or one that freezes up under too many open windows is a good indicator.

I found this out, by the way, in a charming 45-minute phone conversation with a Microsoft tech support engineer. We went through several scenarios where I opened and closed the various programs I use, and then checked the "hit" these applications made on system resources. When I started the computer minus all of the start-up tray items (which meant a temporary absence from the Internet and other functions), the resource meter climbed way back up. As I write, with Word and Outlook open, some 62 percent of resources are free. That's a good number, especially as opposed to the 7 percent I encountered at the worst stage of my "system resource" crisis.

You can poke around with what to load and not load when starting your PC by using a free program Microsoft builds in called the "System Configuration Utility, also known as MSCONFIG.EXE. This program, accessible from the "Run" option in the Windows "start" menu, will let you de-select any or all of the "start-up" items that nestle themselves in your system tray. Remove the "check marks" from the boxes next to the least-needed start-up items and watch your system resource availability soar.

One needs to be judicious in this, and it might be a good idea to make backups of key system files before diving into this. However, as with spring-cleaning, a good rundown of your system's configuration could make computing faster and easier for you.

A final word: I'm told many of these memory issues could become easier with the next release of Microsoft's Windows OS, called "Windows XP." Because this new software is built on Windows NT, it should be more stable and memory management far better.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time, on www.adrenaline-radio.com.


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