Q: What does “swap memory” do that physical RAM memory in a computer can’t do?

A: It can be bigger.

Swap files on the computer’s hard drive are there for when you don’t have enough physical RAM, so the operating systems swaps data out of RAM space and writes a file on storage, to free up RAM for then next use. All modern operating systems use Virtual Memory files, Swap Memory files or Paging files.

The problem is, that hard drives are much, much slower than RAM (how much slower?) so when the operating system is forced to use the swap file, it slows the whole machine down. It’s a big part of the “spinning ball” syndrome you see when you have multiple documents open and you switch between documents or programs. The first defense is to get enough actual RAM to accommodate all of most of your multitasking requirements.

But if you cannot upgrade your RAM any further (either because the machine doesn’t take more, or you are already at the max), installing a SSD drive as your main drive is the last resort to speeding up multitasking. The SSD, being faster than the hard drive, will lower the time spent waiting for the swap file.

Q&A – Questions we have answered in various places over time

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