Windows 95 system resources dangerously low

Question: I have a Pentium 100 MHz laptop with 16 Megs of RAM and a desktop Pentium 100 with 48 Megs of RAM. They both run Windows 95. At start-up, the laptop reports 92 per cent free “system resources” while the desktop has only 80 per cent free. Recently, I’ve been getting error messages from the desktop machine, saying my system resources are dangerously low and has to be shutdown. In one extreme case, system resources were as low as seven per cent. I have Winfax Pro, MS Outlook, Microsoft Office 97 (Word, Excel) in use. What are system resources? Does it relate to hardware or software? Can one increase one’s system resources by adding RAM? —S.H.

Answer: System resources in the context of a Windows-based PC are the parts of the computer hardware that you use to do your work. Memory and a hard drive both come under that umbrella. Typically, though, one equates low system resource messages with a shortage of available memory, as it is key to the efficient operation of your system. Adding RAM will increase your available system resources but, in this case, I don’t think that’s the problem. Something lurking in your system is breathing its sour breath all over your performance.

First, check for a virus. I know – everyone says that. But get it out of the way. It should be a regular part of your troubleshooting routine, anyhow.

Next, check the available space on your hard drive. You can do this by double-clicking on the “My Computer” icon. Then right-click with your mouse on the C: drive icon and select Properties. This will bring up a nifty pie chart that will show you how much drive space is available.

Memory resources are more than just Random Access Memory. They also include virtual memory, which is hard drive space temporarily assigned by the operating system as memory for processing programs. The system uses it to hold data during processing when there is no RAM available for a task. This hard drive space is sometimes referred to as a swap file. “I would be interested in how much hard drive space is left,” said Darren Schotte of Edmonton’s Campus Computers. “Even with the large amount of memory, he will still be using a swap file and, if there is insufficient space on the hard drive, he’d experience problems.”

Windows 95 manages your swap file for you automatically, but you can check the status of this. Go to Start > Settings > Control Panel and click on the System icon, then the Performance tab, and finally the Virtual Memory button. Be sure that the option, “Let Windows manage my virtual memory settings.” is selected.

Next, look at the applications you’re running. Check with the manufacturers to see if there are any patches available. An obvious culprit is Winfax, especially if it’s version 8.0. There’s a patch to upgrade Winfax to 8.01 available at the Symantec site at Symantec Tech Support.

You might also want to install the Windows 95 Kernel32 Update. It fixes a nasty memory leak that drains resources, especially on machines used to access the Internet. Get it from Microsoft Q148336.

Another famous eater of resources is the mini-applications that load when Windows 95 starts. Look down in the right corner of your screen right after you boot up, and count the little icons. If there are more there than you have digits on a hand, one or more of them could be to blame. Each is eating a bit of memory. Winfax, for example, loads a little icon that detects incoming phone calls. If they don’t need to be there, switch them off.

And finally, a good old registry cleaning might do the trick. The registry is like an index for Windows. It’s a place where it keeps track of all the installs and data locations on your system. “Windows 95 has a problem with its registry. Over a period of time, it can get corrupted or become too large and will not function properly,” said Schotte. One way to clean it up is to run CleanMyPC Registry Cleaner 3 on it. This product has a 30-day trial period to try before buying.

But my favorite way is to do a fresh install of Windows. Remove Windows 95 entirely and install fresh from the CD-ROM.