Your RAM is an important hardware component that stores frequently used programs and files, allowing your CPU to process data quickly and efficiently. But if your RAM usage is always very high, your computer will feel very slow, and you’ll also experience stuttering in video games. So, is there a way to free up RAM in Windows 10?
Note: Please save any important files or data before you proceed, as we will be working in the Registry and with other important settings.
1. Close unused background programs
Some programs are always running in the background or leave individual processes active at all times in your memory.
One program won’t do much harm, but it will quickly add up and fill your RAM with useless clutter.
Game launchers like Steam, Origin, and Riot Client are examples of unused background programs. They stay open during and long after you’ve closed a game.
Voice chat programs like Skype, TeamSpeak, and Discord also typically stay running despite you pressing “X” to close them.
They’re designed this way to prevent accidental disconnects from voice chat. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something that you should be aware of.
If you want to shut down a background program completely, here are the steps on how to do it:
- Press the up arrow in the bottom-right corner of your Taskbar. A box saying Show hidden icons appears when you hover your cursor over it.
- Right-click on the program you want to close.
- Press Exit, Quit, Close, or another similar option.
- Repeat for all unused programs.
Note that some background programs won’t show up in the Taskbar. Also, you must turn these programs off every time you boot your computer to remove them from your RAM.
Here’s an easy way to find (and turn off) any program with high memory consumption:
- Press Ctrl + Shift + Esc to open the Task Manager. Alternatively, right-click the Taskbar and select Task Manager.
- If the Task Manager pops up as a small window, press More details to expand it.
- Go to the Details tab.
- Left-click on Memory (active private working set) to sort all processes by memory usage.
- Scroll to the top and look for an unknown or unused program.
- Select the program you want to turn off and press End task in the bottom-right corner.
- Repeat for all unknown or unused programs.
Do not accidentally turn off your Internet browser because you’ll lose this guide.
If you attempt to shut down an essential operating system task, Windows will warn you about it.
Don’t disable anything whose Username is System, Local Service, or Network Service.
You’ll have to disable any memory-hungry tasks when you boot up Windows.
2. Disable startup programs
Some background programs from the previous point can be disabled on startup.
Note that when you launch an app, you’d disabled on startup, it’ll still increase RAM usage until you shut it down manually.
Here’s how you disable Startup programs in Windows 10:
- Open up the Task Manager by pressing Ctrl + Shift + Esc.
- Navigate to the Startup tab.
- Press on a program and select Disable to stop it from booting with your system.
It would be best if you disabled all programs that you don’t use all the time. For example, you can leave Spotify enabled but disable Steam, Skype, and Microsoft Teams.
Disable update schedulers, too. Most programs will auto-update when you launch them, so there’s little reason to leave the scheduler running.
Also, some programs will boot with your system even after disabling them in the Startup menu. Discord does this, for instance.
In that case, open the program in question, open Settings, and find the option that disables automatic launching with Windows.
System apps won’t appear in the Task Manager -> Startup menu. Here’s how to disable Windows apps like Calculator and Sticky Notes from starting up:
- Open up the Start menu by clicking on the Windows icon in the bottom left corner of your screen.
- Type Background apps.
- Disable all apps you don’t need. Alternatively, allowing them lets apps run in the background.
You can even disable certain services from starting up, too. Only do it if you know what feature you’re disabling, though. This is where you will find the advanced Startup menu. Here are the steps:
- Open the Start Menu.
- Type msconfig.
- Go to Services.
- Check Hide all Microsoft services.
- Disable the services you no longer need.
3. Uninstall programs you no longer use
Instead of closing all programs that fill up your RAM, why don’t you remove them altogether?
You probably have at least a few programs installed that you never use. Maybe it was a program that fixed an issue.
Or perhaps it’s a program for a game you forgot to uninstall when you stopped playing it.
You won’t have to disable unused programs from startup if you remove them altogether.
As a nice bonus, you’ll have more space on your storage drive.
Here’s how to uninstall any game or program in Windows 10:
- Open the Start Menu.
- Type Add or remove programs.
- Go through the programs list until you find a program you wish to uninstall.
- Select the program, press Uninstall, and follow the menu on the screen.
It would be best to keep programs you use or plan to use soon. Everything else takes up valuable space on your storage drive and memory.
4. Check your computer for Malware
Trackware, adware, spyware, and other forms of malware all reside in your RAM. How much RAM they consume varies, but it’s usually a large proportion of it.
If you noticed a program with an unusual name or a missing name in the Task Manager from Step 1, it could’ve been a virus.
You can use Windows Defender to scan your computer for viruses. But it’s best to combine it with a third-party program to ensure maximum security.
Malwarebytes is a popular free tool that scans your system and quarantines all malicious software.
Once your scan is complete, review the list of detected threats and remove everything you don’t recognize.
Do this manually because some programs can get flagged as malware by modifying system files.
It would be best to do a fresh Windows install to eradicate viruses in severe cases.
If you are having trouble deactivating Windows Defender after installing third-party anti-virus or firewall programs, please read my other article showing you how to keep Windows Defender turned off.
5. Increase Virtual Memory Paging file size
Additionally, Windows moves files that haven’t been accessed recently from RAM to virtual memory to free up space. This feature directly reduces RAM usage.
Note that virtual memory can’t replace physical RAM. It’s much slower and adds a delay when a file has to be loaded from it.
But at least it prevents low memory errors and allows you to launch programs that wouldn’t work otherwise.
Windows allocates virtual memory automatically. However, manually setting the paging file size increases your system’s virtual memory.
Here’s how to do it:
- Open the Start Menu.
- Type Adjust the appearance and performance of Windows.
- Navigate to the Advanced tab.
- Under Virtual memory, press Change.
- Make sure Automatically manage paging file size for all drives is unchecked.
- Select a drive from the list, preferably an SSD.
- Select Custom Size.
- Set the Initial size (MB) and Maximum size (MB) to 1.5x – 4x of your RAM size. For example, if you have 16 GB of RAM, set the paging file size to 24576 (1 GB = 1024 MB).
- Click on OK and allow your system to perform a restart.
Note: The paging file size shows up as used space on your storage drive.
Please refer to how to adjust the Page File for further reading.
6. Change NDU value in the Registry
If your memory usage randomly spikes to around 99%, it could be an error in the Windows Network Data Usage Monitor.
Thankfully, unexplained high RAM usage can be fixed by changing the NDU value in the Windows registry from 2 to 4.
Here’s how to fix it:
- Open the Start Menu.
- Type regedit, right-click it, and select Run as administrator.
- Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > SYSTEM > ControlSet001 > Services > Ndu.
- Double-click the Start key on the right.
- Change the value to 4 and press OK.
- Restart your computer.
7. Disable the SysMain/Superfetch Task in the Service Menu
Superfetch (SysMain in newer Windows 10 versions) is a Windows service that loads frequently used programs into your RAM.
Although it’s relatively good at predicting what you will launch, it can malfunction and cause high RAM usage.
For example, if Superfetch predicts that you’ll open Steam after closing your Internet browser, it’ll preload Steam into your memory. This feature allows for faster loading, but only if it guesses correctly.
So, you may want to consider disabling it altogether. Here’s how:
- Open the Start Menu.
- Type Services.
- Look for the Superfetch or SysMain service.
- Double-click the service to open the advanced menu.
- Press Stop.
- Expand the menu next to Startup type and select Manual.
- Apply and exit.
If you want to re-enable the service in the future, set the Startup type to Automatic.
8. Disable animations in the Windows 10 interface
Windows 10 has beautiful, modern animations that bring various interface elements to life.
However, the animations are always stored in RAM and always stay there.
So, it’s best to disable most or all animations altogether. Of course, your Windows will look and feel slightly worse, but it’s worth it if your system is low on memory.
This is how to disable animations in Windows 10:
- Open the Start Menu.
- Type View advanced system settings.
- Go to the Advanced tab.
- Press Settings. You can find it under Performance.
- Select Adjust for best performance. Alternatively, set it to Custom and leave animations you like turned on.
9. Reduce the number of tabs open in your browser
If you notice high RAM usage whenever your Internet browser is running, it’s because you have too many tabs open.
Techies make fun of Chrome and its high RAM usage all the time. Each tab in Chrome runs as a separate process on your computer.
Many leave the Internet browser running in the background when playing games. Maybe you can use it to listen to music. Or perhaps you use the browser to Alt-Tab from your game to check a guide.
Only leave the tabs you’re using to stop your Internet browser from hogging your memory. Even better, close your Internet browser when you’re gaming to allow your games to use free RAM space instead.
10. Upgrade your RAM
The only true way to increase your computer’s RAM is to buy more.
Although you won’t stop your programs from using up all your memory, you’ll have more. So, instead of hitting 90% RAM usage, you’ll only get 40–50% when you double the amount you have.
You can never have too much RAM, so it’s always a worthwhile upgrade.
If your computer only has one stick of RAM, try to buy an identical one to run the two in Dual-channel mode. Dual-channel increases performance by 20–30% compared to running the sticks standalone.
You can run more than 3 Chrome tabs simultaneously after the RAM upgrade!
I recommend installing at least 16GB of RAM to ensure your system runs optimally for most usage cases.
11. Reinstall Windows 10
Windows 10 gets slower every time there’s a system update or you download and install a program.
Even after you uninstall something, it leaves traces all over your computer. Entries stay in the registry, and drivers don’t get completely uninstalled when you swap out hardware, etc.
Incorrect and empty registry entries can increase RAM usage because your computer searches for the corresponding files.
A clean Windows install gets rid of all corrupted files and registry entries. Only the operating system and related system apps will use your RAM afterward.
You should only install programs and games you will use now to avoid cluttering your system with worthless junk.