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News and Perspectives from IT Experts

Ways to Use External Hard Drive as RAM

By Julia Clarks | December 29, 2019 |

greater than 4 minutes

This article is focusing on adding virtual memory using an external hard drive, thus relieving the physical RAM. Read on to learn how the usage of an external hard drive as RAM can improve your PC’s performance.

Ways to Use an External Hard Drive as RAM 

There are two types of computer memory, namely physical and virtual memory. The RAM chips attached to your motherboard represent the physical memory, whereas the virtual memory comes from the reserved space within your hard drive. When a program is not in use but open, the Windows system uses the virtual memory to store its data.  

Now, if you have an old computer with little RAM, less than 4GB, to be precise, then you need to upgrade your device by increasing virtual memory using your external hard drive. There are a lot of untrustworthy theories about boosting this and that on your computer to make it better. In most cases, the misleading of readers comes from the wrong presentation of information, whether intentional or unintentional. For instance, in this case, increasing virtual memory will not increase the memory inside the RAM chips. Actually, the RAM chips’ capacity cannot be changed unless they are taken back to the manufacturing company for reconstruction. Therefore, this article is focusing on adding virtual memory using an external hard drive. So, how does using an external hard drive increase RAM and improve performance? 

Well, with more virtual memory, a computer is able to multitask, therefore completing tasks faster. If a program is open but idle, the computer can shift its data to virtual memory, thus relieving the physical RAM. Thus, when properly configured, your PC will improve its performance. Now, for you to understand things better, let’s first explain how virtual memory works before diving deep into the setup procedure.  

Virtual memory is kept in a system file called pagefile or paging file. Virtual memory is not accessible to the user and can only be accessed under two circumstances: when the physical RAM is overloaded and when there are programs that are open but idle. So, the first scenario is common among old PCs that have little physical RAM. When your computer is running low on physical memory, the newly generated data from programs that are being opened still needs to go somewhere. You may wonder, why not just increase physical RAM? Remember, old computers have a limited RAM volume, i.e. on some old PCs, motherboards can only take up to 2GB of RAM. Therefore, you are only left with virtual memory. Anyway, back to our case: so, once the physical RAM is left with no space, Windows turns to paging files, which opened programs will use as if they were physical memory. When an open program is minimized or not in use for some time, its data is moved from RAM to virtual memory, hence space for other applications and important system operations. This, in turn, helps the whole computer system to run efficiently.  

Virtual memory plays a pivotal role in keeping your PC operations smooth. Although some websites discourage the use of paging files, this can prove to be a bad idea in the long run. If there is no paging file in your system, then you will likely experience slowdowns, errors, freezes, and even crashes leading to data loss. Even if you have a large amount of physical memory, leaving breathing space for it by implementing virtual memory will help keep your computer healthy. Note that, if your paging file is small, you might also experience these problems, hence the need to know the right size to set your virtual memory because setting it too high may also lead to issues.  

There are other facts that you need to consider when it comes to virtual memory before setting it up. One of the major misinterpreted concepts about virtual memory is the thought that it operates the same way as physical RAM. However, virtual memory can never substitute RAM, and it is slower. Even if used on the fastest solid-state drive, it will remain slower than physical memory. Therefore, if your computer is slow due to not having enough physical RAM memory, having a well-setup paging file will only help in stabilizing and bettering its performance but will definitely not make it much faster.  

There isn’t a specific amount of virtual memory that can be labelled as best for any PC. Therefore, the amount of virtual memory you need depends on your user needs. To be precise, the amount of virtual memory you need depends on the amount of physical RAM you have and how much memory you usually use. For instance, if you have 6GB of RAM installed and your max memory usage is capped at 9GB, it would be best to set your paging file memory to 4GB. This means, in total, you will have 10GB, giving you an extra GB to be on the safe side.   

How to Use a Hard Drive as RAM on Windows 

Here is how you can set up your external hard drive as RAM to enjoy a more stable computer: 

Step 1 

  1. Access the Start menu and right-click on Computer. 
  2. Select Properties and then choose Advanced system settings.  
  3. If prompted, enter the admin password. 

Step 2 

  1.  Under System Properties, select the Advanced tab. 
  2. Choose the Settings button under the Performance category. 

Step 3 

  1. Select the Advanced tab and choose the Change button located near the bottom of the window. 
  2. Find and uncheck the box labelled Automatically manage paging file size for all drives. 

Step 4 

  1. Find and choose the external hard drive from the list. 
  2. Select System managed size, and your PC will allocate virtual memory on the external hard drive. 
  3. To allocate a customized virtual memory volume, select Custom and enter the minimum and maximum amount of your memory and choose Set.  
  4. Click on OK and then restart your computer for the settings to take effect. 
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