It's confusing when you have 8, 16 or even more megabytes of RAM (random access memory) in your Windows 95 personal computer and yet the screen freezes or a program refuses to start. In bewilderment you think, "How can this be when the software says it only needs 4 MB of memory to run?"
Don't take it personally. It's natural to think a PC would manage its own memory and settings, and in most cases it does a fine job by itself. But when it fails, you need to take the upper hand.
Start with a tuneup of your computer's hard disk. As I mentioned in a previous column, the Microsoft Windows 95 utilities ScanDisk and Defrag, or better yet, Symantec's Norton Utilities, keeps folders and files in good working order on your hard drive. Regular use of hard disk utilities will allow Windows 95 to show you the contents of files faster.
It's a good idea to also check on Windows 95's use of your PC's memory, specifically virtual memory. Virtual memory is a trick used by Windows to create temporary memory for software programs and print jobs by using hard disk space. This is another reason to keep your hard disk in tiptop shape.
If you tend to work with more than two software programs open and running simultaneously, or multi-task, leave at least twice the amount of hard drive space free as the total RAM in your PC.
To see your Windows 95 memory settings, right-click on the My Computer icon and select Properties. From the Performance tab, select Virtual Memory and make sure "Let Windows manage my virtual memory settings" is selected.
While you are looking at the Performance tab, double-check the File System settings. Here you can specify the role of your PC as a desktop, notebook or server. The role you select automatically affects Windows memory configuration. For example, a notebook PC setting will use less virtual memory than a desktop PC for one simple reason: Virtual memory translates into the hard disk being accessed repeatedly, and this action takes power from the notebook's battery.
If the CD-ROM isn't working as fast as you think it ought to, click the CD-ROM tab and increase the size of the cache. Double-check that Windows has selected the proper speed of your CD-ROM drive.
Software programs and improper settings aren't the only things that weigh down the system. Fonts, screen savers, wallpapers, system events and so on all pack on the pounds. If you want to speed it up, you need to lighten its load. Consider scrapping the photo-realistic wallpaper or doing away with the long sound file that plays when you start Windows. One guy I knew had the entire "Star Trek" theme play every time Windows started. His fellow employees wanted to stun him with their phasers.
One trick for speeding up the Windows display is to decrease the number of colors being used. While it's nice to see pictures in 256 colors or more, Windows and the video card have a lot of information to move. If you're not going to work with images in 256 colors, change the video driver back to 16 colors. You can do this within Windows by right-clicking on the Desktop and selecting Settings.
Speaking of video drivers, make sure you have a current one. Contact the company that made your video card for an upgrade or drop by its Web site to download it. Video card manufacturers update drivers regularly and, unfortunately, it's up to users to find out when and if the update occurred.
Now that we've tuned up your PC, if things are still running too slow for your liking, you're going to have to break down and buy an accelerated video card designed to work in Windows. A graphics accelerator card allows three major things in Windows: enhanced resolution, enhanced color depth and video acceleration. By processing much of the image, a graphics accelerator card frees some of the processor's resources. So as you scroll through or change views in a document, the image refreshes more quickly than normal.
Using the Internet for hours can also cause a slowdown. This is a known problem with Windows 95 and you can get the patch to fix it at Microsoft's home page (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/software/krnlupd.htm).
Not all programs clean up after themselves. When you close down some programs, they leave behind little souvenirs that take up memory and/or something called system resources. It may be necessary to close down Windows and start it up again so that every byte of memory and every system resource is available.
Although Windows 95 will work--more likely crawl--on a 386-based PC with 4 MB of RAM, you need at least a 486-based PC and 8 or 16 MB to do any work with reasonable speed and acceptable performance.
Kim Komando is a Fox TV host, syndicated talk radio host and founder of the Komputer Klinic on America Online (keyword KOMANDO). She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org