If you are a Windows 10 user, you will have probably already encountered a memory leak.
It seems to be one of the biggest problems in the latest Windows operating system, with Microsoft forums and Quora-like boards full of users seeking advice.
For many users, an unexpected increase in the use of RAM occurred soon after the initial upgrade.
One of the biggest factors that will limit the performance of your computer is how much RAM it is using, or appears to be using.
So what exactly is happening when you have a potential memory leak or low RAM issues?
To answer that and solve the problem, we have to go right back to basics.
Most of us already know that RAM is a type of memory used by our computers and stands for Random Access Memory.
This memory can be accessed by the computer at random, hence the name. Unlike other forms of storage, it only keeps the data as long as the computer is running.
This is the place where the operating system and applications store data for easy access by the computer’s processor or CPU.
So far that seems simple, but how do the programs on our computer use the RAM?
As soon as you boot up your computer, the operating system requests some RAM to use for processes.
Every time you start a new program or application, it also requests some RAM to store data in for easy access.
Some programs, like Adobe Photoshop, are known to be more RAM-hungry than others.
You may have heard the phrase there’s never too much RAM. RAM is an important part of any computer’s system, with most new builds coming with a recommended minimum of 8GB and, more often than not nowadays, having 16GB of RAM pre-installed.
More advanced users will often justify having 32GB or even 64GB of RAM for applications like video editing, CAD, or multitasking–a long way from the days of the 4KB of RAM that came as standard with the Apple II.
Despite having these larger amounts of RAM in our computers, there will be times when the system runs low on, or even completely out of, memory.
This is normally caused by running too many applications at the same time, for example, 4K video editors or a large number of open tabs in an internet browser.
The simple solution is to either install more memory or close down some programs or tabs.
When there is a shortage of RAM available to your processor, it causes the system to slow down and sometimes grind to a complete stop.
As the RAM reduces, the computer starts performing a process known as “paging,” where it swaps data from the internal RAM to a storage drive to free up space.
This is known as virtual memory and enables the computer to continue performing its tasks.
The constant moving of data between RAM and the slower virtual memory causes the system to slow down and has a negative impact on your PC’s performance.
Although running memory-intensive software can cause this process, there are other situations where all the RAM is used and your performance suffers.
Some users have found that, after upgrading to Windows 10, they merely open a couple of applications and already their RAM usage is up to 80%.
Startup programs, those that load as soon as your PC is switched, on could be hogging a lot of the RAM. Unexplained RAM usage is often referred to as a memory leak.
Memory leaks, at the most basic level, refer to a loss of memory in Windows, caused by a program or an application.
When a program is finished with the memory it has been allocated, it will normally inform the system that it is now free to be used by another part of the system.
When a memory leak occurs, a fault somewhere in the program fails to inform the computer that the dynamic memory is done with.
Another issue can be an application that uses more RAM than usual, causing your computer to slow down and making it difficult to perform even the most basic of tasks.
It’s not just applications that can cause a memory leak though. Experts at Microsoft Forums have recognized a Windows 10 process, known as “noskrnl.exe,” to be a cause of memory leak.
It can be hardware drivers, background system processes, native and third-party applications, or even Windows itself.
With RAM being a volatile memory that clears itself when powered down, you would think the simple solution was to switch off the computer.
This can be a quick fix for a memory leak but it is only short-term and won’t prevent the faulty or bad program from continuing to cause a problem.
Unfortunately, Windows doesn’t have an early warning system yet which flashes on your screen that you have a memory leak, so it can be very difficult to diagnose.
Symptoms may include a decrease in your computer’s performance, a slowing down of response, not being able to open more programs, or even a complete freeze of the system.
Sometimes having more RAM on your computer can make things worse; a leak that only consumes a little RAM every minute will take longer, maybe a day or two, to become a critical problem.
Programs that only run for a brief period of time and have a memory leak issue can be harder to spot if they terminate and the system still has enough available RAM to complete other processes.
It’s the programs that run for longer and grab large amounts of RAM that will cause your system to eventually slow to a standstill.
Windows Task Manager is about to become your new best friend as you attempt to track down any potential memory leaks. This tool, built into every version of Windows, will be able to show you which processes or programs are consuming more RAM than they should be.
You can use Task Manager to check exactly how much memory every single program, application, or process on your computer is using. If a simple app like Sticky Notes is using 60% of the available RAM then it’s a pretty good indication that you have a memory leak.
To use Task Manager in Windows 10, simply press “Ctrl” + “Shift” + “Esc” simultaneously on your keyboard to open up Task Manager. Once it is open, click on the “Processes” tab in the top bar of the program. This will show the amount of RAM that each program or process on your machine is using.
By clicking at the top of the “Memory” tab, with the usage percentage below it, you can rearrange the list of processes into a descending order with the most memory-hungry at the top. Try to look for processes that are using much more RAM than usual.
It’s more than likely that the offending program will be using over 50% of the available RAM. It’s hard to say exactly how much memory each process should be using, you will have to judge that for yourself but remember some more heavyweight programs, like PhotoShop, can use several GBs of RAM.
Once you identify the process causing the memory leak, there are several things you can do.
When it’s third-party software, the easiest solution is to reinstall the app or – if possible – reset it. If this doesn’t work, it may be best to simply uninstall the offending program and search for a better alternative.
If it’s a process or app which you don’t recognize, right-click on the item and select “Search Online.”
This will find information on the internet to identify what it does. If you think it’s an actual Windows process causing the leak, you may need to search further on forums to see if a solution exists to prevent the memory leak.
Most users who complain about memory leak issues find it occurs just after they have upgraded to the latest version of Windows 10.
In cases like this, the probable cause is an outdated driver, a missing driver, or a required driver which doesn’t work properly for your computer. You will need to fix or update your drivers to solve the problem. This can be done either manually or automatically by a third-party app.
To manually update all your drivers, you can use the “Device Manager” tool provided in Windows.
To launch it, you have to press the “Windows” key + R to open the Run dialog box into which you type devmgmt.ms. Expand all the contents of the list and look out for drivers which have a yellow warning triangle next to them.
This icon indicates that the driver could be either faulty, outdated, or not supported.
Whenever you see a yellow triangle, right-click on the icon and select “Update driver software.” From within the wizard which opens, you can automatically search the web for an updated driver and follow the on-screen instructions.
A much simpler solution is to download a driver update utility from a reputable company like Intel, which automatically downloads and installs any drivers which need fixing.
If a startup program is causing your memory leak it will be a problem from the minute you switch your computer on and no amount of rebooting will resolve it!
You can use Task Manager to disable programs that launch when you start up Windows 10.
When you open Task Manager, click on the “Startup” tab, navigate to the program you suspect is causing the trouble, and select it.
The “Disable” button at the bottom right-hand corner of the box will become active. Click this to prevent the program from launching when starting your PC.
As with many other problems on your computer, malware or adware can often be to blame for higher RAM usage.
Some malware may even be specially designed to damage your computer by increasing RAM usage. The solution is to install an antivirus program and run a complete system scan for malware.
A free antivirus program we recommend is the Avast Free Antivirus which is a powerful tool that can also create an Avast rescue disc for running a scan when Windows isn’t operating at all. With Windows not running, there is nowhere for the virus to hide or anything to prevent the program from scanning your system.
Adware can use excessive RAM as well. As adware downloads the ads to your computer it will use many of your network and system resources, including that valuable RAM.
Although most antivirus programs won’t get rid of unwanted adware, there are many dedicated adware cleaning utilities available, like Adwcleaner from Malwarebytes.
Running a full scan with such a program can find and remove all the unwanted ads and programs that may be residing on your PC.
Windows 10 is shaping up to be one of the best versions of Windows ever.
But, like all operating systems, it has its share of teething problems.
If you have encountered problems with a memory leak, we hope some of the above solutions have helped to fix the problem. The occasional spring cleaning of your computer is never a bad thing.
Marcus has a graduate degree in computer engineering and has many years of experience in cutting-edge technology research and development in both startups and Fortune 500 corporations. In his free time, he enjoys RTS gaming.
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