3 stubborn PC problems you can fix

Published: May 9, 2006

By Chris Tull, Web designer and technology writerEver notice how each PC has a personality of its own? Or maybe even multiple personalities? In the course of a week, your computer may act friendly, moody, and sometimes downright mean.

However, dont take a hammer to your PC just yet. The following is a list of common symptoms and treatments to help even the most troublesome PCs. You dont even have to be a psychologist (at least not yet) to deal with your PCs neuroses.

These solutions deal specifically with Windows XP, but overall youll find these tips work for all versions of Windows starting with Windows 95 to Windows XP.

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You keep getting a Your system is running low on virtual memory message

You keep getting a Your system is running low on virtual memory message

Your windows slide off the desktop . . . and you can’t grab them

Your windows slide off the desktop . . . and you can’t grab them

Your taskbar has disappeared

Your taskbar has disappeared

Where to find more help

Where to find more help

You keep getting a Your system is running low on virtual memory message

Perhaps youre more than familiar with this scenario: Youre working on your PC and notice performance getting gradually slower and slower. Programs become harder to open and close. You wait forever for Web pages to display. And then, you get some serious-sounding virtual memory is too low message, like the one displayed below.

By the way, dont worry. This message isnt as scary as it sounds.

Image of low virtual memory message

Viewing a virtual memory low message

Virtual memory is the space your PC uses when it’s short of RAM (Random Access Memory), which is the memory used when running programs like Microsoft Office Word or Microsoft Office PowerPoint.

So what can you do to correct this problem and prevent this message from coming up in the future? The following are some solutions to keep your PC from displaying the “virtual memory minimum is too low” message.

Solution #1: Bump up the virtual memory size on your PC

The first solution is to increase your PC’s virtual memory settings. To do so, you first need to determine how much RAM you currently have.

To find the amount of RAM on your PC:

1.

On the Start menu, click My Computer. The My Computer window is displayed. Click View system information (located on the left-side of the My Computer window). The Systems Properties dialog box is displayed.

2.

Click the General tab. You can find the RAM your computer currently has.

Image of General Tab in System Properties, with RAM circled

Finding the RAM on your PC

To increase the virtual memory on your computer:

1.

On the Start menu, click My Computer. The My Computer window is displayed. Click View system information (located on the left-side of the My Computer window). The Systems Properties dialog box is displayed.

2.

In the Systems Properties dialog box click the Advanced tab. Under Performance, click Settings. The Performance Options dialog box is displayed.

3.

In the Performance Options dialog box, click the Advanced tab. Find the Virtual memory area. Click Change. The Virtual Memory dialog box is displayed.

Image of Advanced tab of Performance Options dialog box, with Change button circled

Selecting the Advanced tab in the Performance Options dialog box

4.

In the Virtual Memory dialog box change the Initial Size (MB) and Maximum size (MB) text boxes to 1.5 times the RAM you have (in MB). For example, if you had 768 MB, you would enter 1152 MB RAM in both the Initial Size (MB) and Maximum Size (MB) text boxes.

Image of Virtual Memory dialog box, with Custom size text boxes circled

Accessing the Virtual Memory dialog box

5.

Click Set. Then, click OK. A message appears, stating that you will need to restart for the changes to take place. Click OK.

6.

Click OK two times.

7.

You will then be asked if you want to restart your computer. Click Yes or No depending on when you want your changes to take effect.

Solution #2: Add more RAM to your PC

If you keep getting that dreaded “Your system is running low on virtual memory” message – even after you’ve increased your PCs virtual memory – then you may need to buy more memory for your PC. To really work well, Windows XP needs a minimum of 256MB of RAM. The more RAM you have, the better.

If you're at work, you should contact your company's IT administrator before updating the memory on your computer. They may have some available and can help you install it.

If you do need to purchase some more memory, stop by your local computer shop. You can probably buy memory from them, and they’ll probably install it for you. Or, you can buy memory online. Check out Windows Marketplace for a great selection of memory.

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Your windows slide off the desktop . . . and you can’t grab them

We’re all familiar with moving program windows around the desktop. You can click-and-hold the window’s title bar to move it around. But what do you do when you accidentally move a window’s title bar off the desktop so you can’t grab it anymore? The window is stuck in that inconvenient position.

Solution: Use your keyboard to help move your window

The trick to moving these stubborn program windows is by using your keyboard.

To use your keyboard to move a window:

1.

Select the program window you’re trying to move. Then, press ALT + SPACEBAR on your keyboard. The program’s shortcut menu is displayed.

Image of a window’s Control menu

Accessing a window’s Control menu

2.

On the menu that appears, click Move.

3.

Use your LEFT ARROW, RIGHT ARROW, UP ARROW, or DOWN ARROW keys to move the window so you can see its title bar on your screen.

4.

Once you’re done moving the window, press the ENTER key.

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Your taskbar has disappeared

The taskbar is that horizontal bar at the bottom or your computer screen that displays open programs on your desktop. The taskbar also contains the Start menu, which allows you to navigate to various programs installed on your PC. In many ways, it’s your command central.

Thus, there’s nothing more frustrating than going to start a program, only to find the taskbar gone. A PC without a taskbar will pull you to a grinding halt.

The good news is that the taskbar never disappears. It just hides. It may be hiding behind other open windows, or at the top or side of your screen. You can also (unintentionally) make the taskbar so thin, that it seems invisible.

The following are possible reasons as to why your taskbar has vanished, as well as solutions to keep your taskbar from ever running away again.

Solution #1: Find your taskbar behind other windows

1.

If you don’t see your taskbar, minimize all windows on your desktop. See if your taskbar is hiding behind your open windows.

Image of maximized and maximized windows with no taskbar showing

Finding your taskbar behind maximized windows

2.

To set your taskbar so it’s always on top of all desktop windows, right-click the taskbar, and click Properties.

3.

In the Taskbar and Start Menu dialog box, click to select the following:

The Lock the taskbar check box

The Keep the taskbar on top of other windows check box

4.

Click OK.

Image of the Taskbar tab with check boxes to lock the taskbar and keep it on top emphasized

Locking and keeping your taskbar on top of other windows

Now your taskbar will always be visible, no matter how many windows you have open. Locking your taskbar also keeps you from accidentally moving it around.

Solution #2: Find your taskbar elsewhere on your screen

If you have tried minimizing all windows on your desktop, and still don’t see your taskbar—perhaps it’s been moved. Maybe you’ve moved it yourself by accident. Or, perhaps someone’s playing a practical joke on you. Regardless, the following will help you get your taskbar back to its proper size.

1.

As you did in the previous steps, minimize all windows on your desktop. If you don’t see your taskbar at the bottom of the screen, perhaps it’s hanging out to the side or top of your desktop.

Image of desktop with taskbar positioned on the right

Finding a hiding taskbar on your desktop

2.

Click-and-drag your taskbar back to the bottom of your screen.

3.

Right-click the taskbar, and then click Properties. The Taskbar and Start Menu dialog box is displayed.

4.

In the Taskbar and Start Menu dialog box (see Figure 7), click to select the following:

The Lock the taskbar check box

The Keep the taskbar on top of other windows check box

Click OK.

Solution #3: Thicken up your taskbar

You can make your taskbar a thin line—so skinny it’s hard to see. To see if you’ve done this unintentionally, perform the following:

1.

Minimize all windows on your desktop. Look at each side of your screen. If you see a thin strip, that’s the taskbar.

Image of desktop with taskbar as a thin strip on the right side

Finding a taskbar that’s become a thin strip

2.

Point your mouse at the strip. It changes into a double-sided arrow.

3.

Click-and-drag the mouse toward the center of the screen to thicken your taskbar.

4.

Once you’ve thickened the taskbar, you can drag the taskbar back to the bottom of the screen by following the steps in "Solution #2" above.