3 Stubborn PC Problems You Can Fix

Ever 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, don’t 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 don’t even have to be a psychologist (at least not yet) to deal with your PC’s neuroses.

These solutions deal specifically with Windows XP, but overall you’ll find these tips work for all versions of Windows starting with Windows 95 to Windows XP. Windows Vista handles most of these problems automatically.

1. You keep getting a "your system is running low on virtual memory" message

Perhaps you’re more than familiar with this scenario: You’re 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 be displayed. And then, you get some serious-sounding "virtual memory is too low" message, like the one in the following graphic.

Don’t worry: This message isn’t as scary as it sounds.

Image of a virtual memory low dialog box

Viewing a virtual memory low message

Virtual memory is the space your computer 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 computer from displaying the "virtual memory minimum is too low" message.

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

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

To increase the virtual memory on your Windows XP computer:

  1. On the Start menu, click My Computer, and then on the left side of the My Computer window, click View system information.

  2. Click the Advanced tab, and then in the Performance area, click Settings.

  3. Click the Advanced tab, and then in the Virtual memory area, click Change.

    Image showing the Performance Options dialog box

    Selecting the Advanced tab in the Performance Options dialog box

  4. 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 of RAM, you would enter 1152 MB RAM in both the Initial Size (MB) and Maximum Size (MB) text boxes.

    Image showing the Virtual Memory dialog box

    Accessing the Virtual Memory dialog box

  5. Click Set, and 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 the changes to take effect.

Solution #2: Add more RAM to your computer

If you keep getting that dreaded "Your system is running low on virtual memory" message—even after you increase your computer’s virtual memory—then you may need to buy more memory for your computer. To really work well:

  • Windows XP needs a minimum of 256 MB of RAM.

  • Windows Vista needs at least 512 MB of RAM to run, but for some applications (like gaming) 1 GB or more of RAM is recommended.

The more RAM you have, the better.

If you’re at work, contact your company’s IT administrator before updating the memory on your computer. They may have some memory 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.

2. 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 to use your keyboard.

To use your keyboard to move a window:

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

    Image of the control menu

    Accessing a window’s shortcut menu

  2. 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. After you move the window where you want it, press ENTER.

3. 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 computer. 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 computer without a taskbar will bring 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 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

  • 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 minimized windows, revealing the taskbar

    Finding your taskbar behind maximized windows

  • To set your taskbar so it’s always on top of all desktop windows:

    1. Right-click the taskbar, and click Properties.

    2. Select the Lock the taskbar check box.

    3. Select the Keep the taskbar on top of other windows check box.

Image of Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box

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 you still don’t see your taskbar—perhaps it has 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 an arrow pointing to a left, vertical taskbar

    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.

  4. Click to select the following:

    • The Lock the taskbar check box

    • The Keep the taskbar on top of other windows check box

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 an arrow pointing to a thin strip taskbar at the top of the screen

    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. After you thicken the taskbar, you can drag it back to the bottom of the screen by following the steps in "Solution #2" above.

Where to find more help

This article covers three common PC problems. But if you’re still unable to find the solution to your particular PC problems, check out the Microsoft support page. There, you’ll find various self-support and assisted support solutions. You’ll find answers to cure even the most disturbed computer.

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