Everyone wants to make their computer run faster without having to purchase an upgrade or remove some software. We reviewed free tool CleanMem years ago, and found it to have an effect on Windows’ RAM usage. But will this really speed up your PC? Let’s take a look.
What CleanMem Does
CleanMem is a free tool that supposedly helps with memory management in Windows. To help reduce the amount of RAM used by software, CleanMem calls the Windows memory management API every 15 minutes to steal back unused RAM. According to the developer, this is better than allowing Windows to manage memory on its own.
The program works silently by scheduling a task in Windows Task Scheduler. To review its status and see how your system’s memory is performing, you can open the included CleanMem Mini Monitor tool. This places an icon in your System Tray allowing you to see how much memory is in use on your system.
You can also create a keyboard shortcut to run CleanMem any time.
On the plus side, CleanMem doesn’t try to go against the standard Windows memory management. It simply asks Windows to do it on a set schedule, instead of allowing it to perform on its own. However, we need to discuss why you shouldn’t use this tool on your system.
Note that Panda Antivirus neutralized the download as a threat in our testing, so be wary if you decide to try this tool.
How Memory Works
We’ve written a guide on RAM, but it’s good to review here to explain why CleanMem isn’t worth using.
RAM, or random access memory, is what your computer uses to temporarily store running processes. RAM is volatile, meaning that it isn’t saved when you turn off the power to your computer. When you open up a Microsoft Word window, Windows places that process into RAM. If your desktop were to lose power five minutes later, your document would be lost as well, unless you saved it to your hard drive (which isn’t volatile).
Obviously, the more programs running concurrently, the more RAM your computer needs. To get around the limit, your computer uses what’s called a page file. This is a small amount of your hard drive that’s dedicated to being “pretend” RAM. When your computer starts to run out of RAM, it uses the page file to manage older processes.
In general, the larger (and cheaper) computer storage media is, the longer it takes to access. Your Dropbox cloud might have a terabyte of space, but downloading files from it takes forever. Conversely, loading a process from RAM only takes a fraction of a second, but most people don’t have more than 8 or 16 GB of RAM installed.
As you can imagine, juggling processes from the hard drive is much slower than juggling them around RAM. You’ll notice a drop in performance when this regularly happens. CleanMem exists to keep Windows from relying on the page file. However, this is a poor solution to the problem.
Why CleanMem Isn’t Good
First, CleanMem won’t make your computer faster. It says this right on the website (emphasis added, sic):
CleanMem WILL NOT make your system faster. What CleanMem does, again, is help avoid the use of the page file on the hard drive, which is where your slow down comes from. There have been users including my self who have noticed a smoother system. A placebo effect perhaps? Who knows. I do know that CleanMem hurts nothing, and does help, to a point.
Here, the developer of this software comes right out and says that this tool won’t make your PC faster. In fact, he admits it might just be a placebo, which means it has no place on your system.
Second, while CleanMem doesn’t fight against Window’s memory management like awful Android task killers, it still does a job that’s already taken care of. Let’s read again from the developer’s website (sic):
So far the only people calling CleanMem snake oil are the users who don’t bother trying it. I have one “memory expert” after another tell me one thing and say the other memory people are wrong! Its a war I don’t want to fight and that no one will win. The true memory experts are the programmers of Windows, the programmers! And lets face it, they are not going to find their way to my corner of the web :-)
If the true memory experts are the programmers of Windows, why would you want software from someone who’s not a memory expert on your computer? Windows already does a fine job of memory management. It doesn’t need another tool nagging it about when it should garbage-collect memory. Perhaps this was more important in ancient versions of Windows, but modern versions are perfectly solid.
While cleaning memory isn’t the worst thing in the world (Registry cleaners are worse), it’s just not useful. CleanMem might snatch memory from, say, Photoshop when it’s inactive in the background. Photoshop will need that memory back as soon as you return to it, so why bother passing it back and forth?
Further, free RAM amounts to wasted RAM. If you have 8 GB of RAM and Windows only uses 4 GB, there are 4 GB of space not dedicated to any purpose. Windows knows how much RAM it has to work with, and uses it as best as it can. Constantly reducing the amount of RAM that programs use isn’t going to help performance on its own.
What Can I Use Instead?
There are far better ways to increase the working RAM on your system if you need to. The best choice is installing more RAM on your system. If you’re only rocking a few gigabytes, spending a bit of money to double or even quadruple your RAM will greatly improve your computer’s performance. You can also use ReadyBoost to enlist a flash drive as extra RAM.
Even if you don’t have the budget to upgrade, you can still use lighter software alternatives to reduce RAM usage. Consider removing startup software and uninstalling programs you no longer use so they aren’t running in the background.
In the end, CleanMem is an unneeded solution to a problem few PC users have. If you have little memory in your system causing Windows to often use the page file, the solution is to add more RAM. CleanMem’s solution is to constantly take RAM from processes you’re using to make the overall usage percentage look better. Windows shouldn’t be damaged enough to the point where it can’t manage RAM; if it is, you need to reinstall Windows.
You can give CleanMem a try if you really want to, but we’ve demonstrated that at best, it reduces the total memory used. This isn’t even a desirable end goal, as RAM exists to give software a place to run. End users don’t need to worry about the gritty details of operating system management. The programmers at Microsoft have years of experience on designing operating systems, and their methods are far superior to CleanMem, as the developer acknowledges:
I think I should also clarify, I am no memory expert.
Do you use a memory cleaner on your computer? After learning about CleanMem, will you stop using it? Let us know down in the comments!
Originally written by Varun Kashyap on October 18, 2008.