Windows comes with a handy little tool to help you monitor the use of system resources. This tool is called Resource Meter and can be started by going to Start/Programs/Accessories/System Tools/Resource Meter. If you don’t see it listed, you can easily install it by going to Start/Settings/Control Panel/Add Remove Programs/Windows Setup/System Tools, putting a check mark into the box next to System Resource Meter, clicking OK, and inserting your Windows 9x CD if prompted.
Once you have the resource meter started, you’ll see a little box with green bars in your system tray on your task bar. When you hover your mouse over it, you’ll see a box popping up with percentage numbers for System, User, and GDI. As explained earlier, User and GDI are the important ones. System resources simply indicate the lower of the two.
Double-click on the resource meter tray icon and you’ll get a windows with three bar graphs. This little tool can be very helpful with monitoring your system resources, and if you have problems, you might want to create a shortcut to it in your StartUp folder to start it every time you boot Windows.
When you clean-install Windows and fire up Resource Meter, you’ll probably see ninety-some percent of resources available, e.g. 92% User resources and 98% GDI resources. This is great. But the moment you start installing and running programs, these numbers will go down.
After using your PC for a while and installing gobs of programs, you’ll notice that your resources are much lower even when you just booted Windows. They might be in the 80% range or maybe even lower. This is due to programs that get loaded on Windows startup. Good examples for these types of programs are virus scanners and other always-on utilities like AOL Instant Messenger, Iomega Tools, RealPlayer and many more. To see what applications are running after you boot Windows, just push Ctrl-Alt-Del on your keyboard and take a close look at the resulting dialog box. Each line is a program running. There are two applications that you’ll always find there, one is Explorer, which is Windows itself, another is Systray. But anything else is a program taking up valuable resources. If you are worried about low system resources when you boot Windows, check out our article on shutting down background applications to find out how to eliminate some of them.
Identifying Resource Leaks
If you are running into a resource problem, you can try to identify the culprit via a systematic approach. First, try to isolate which program might be causing the problem by installing and running the resource meter as explained above, then running some of your applications. When you have narrowed it down to a few possible suspects, write them down. Then reboot Windows to start with a clean slate and make sure resource meter is running. Note the amount of available resources. Open only one program from your list, use it for a while, then shut it down again. Now check the amount of resources again. Are the numbers the same as before running the application? If so, great. However, if the numbers are lower, maybe significantly lower than before, you have just identified your culprit. This would be a good time to contact the program vendor and asking if they have a patch available that corrects the problem.
How much are enough Resources?
There is no clear line as how much is enough. As mentioned above, a clean system might start with resources in the 90-95 percent range. A system with a number of programs installed might boot with resources in the 70-90% range. When running a fair number of applications simultaneously, resources might drop down to 30-40%. This is perfectly fine and nothing to worry about. However, when you close programs your resources should increase again as most resources will be freed up once they are no longer in use. Please note though that they will not return to the same percentage you had available right after starting Windows. This is due to the fact that there are certain shared components in Windows that do not get loaded on startup, only when they are needed, but stay loaded once the requesting application is closed again.
If resources drop and are not being released by the application that used them, there isn’t much you can do. The only way to recover resources is by rebooting Windows. Also, after running Windows for a few hours or a few days, depending on how many programs you use, eventually you’ll notice a drop in system resources. That’s just the way it is, not much you can do about it. Again, a quick reboot is the easiest way to recover those lost resources.
– Alex –