So ... how do I beat a memory leak on my computer?

A fellow of my acquaintance works for customer support for a large ISP. We got to chatting about the snarls of my own home PC.

I basically have a single, but complex, symptom. Once I start the computer, for anywhere from approximately 15-60 minutes, there are no problems. Then, the on-screen mouse cursor begins to periodically freeze upon clicking. The first few freezes only last a second or three. But the longer I stay on the computer and make mouse clicks, the more frequently the freezes will occur AND the longer each individual freeze will last. After a while, every third or fourth mouse click causes a 30-60 second freeze. If I slog through all that, eventually the computer freezes for good (no “blue screen of death”, though) or better yet – the computer quits sending info to the monitor, and the screen goes dark.

A warm or cold boot fixes all … for a while. Rinse and repeat.

So anyway, the ISP fellow suggests first to reinstall the mouse driver. I’ve done that a few times – no dice. His next theory is something known as a memory leak.

I’m not 100% clear on what a memory leak is, but the ISP guy mentioned that I might have programs that open on startup and run continuously in the background. Now, around 6 months ago, I went into MSCONFIG and cleaned up a lot of these startup programs. Still, I looked again last night, and it looked there might be even a little more fat to cut. For instance, Symantec PC Anywhere was opening on startup for some reason, so I cut that out of the startup programs.

My question to the board is threefold:

a) How else can I go about ferreting out and resolving a possible memory leak?

b) What software is available out there that can help? Norton Systemworks, perhaps (if that’s the right name)?

c) I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve been surfing the Web on a cable modem for the past six months without using any kind of firewall. Could buggy software have been hacked onto my PC, and could such clandestine installs be the cause of the symptom above? Could it even be a low-grade annoying virus? Or does it sound more like a memory leak?

Relevant PC info:

  • Computer is 3 1/2 years old (can’t afford a new one).
  • 450 Mhz Celeron Processor
  • 128 M of RAM
  • Runs Windows 98, with no service packs I am aware of except the service pack that comes with the download of IE 6.0.
  • Checking the Properties of My Computer, it indicates that “77% of resources are free”. Does this mean RAM usage, or something else?
  • I fiddled with the Virtual Memory recently in an effort to fix the freezing cursor. It used to be set for Windows to manage it automatically. I set it to use no more than 2 gigs of disk space, though I have about 13 gigs to spare. This modification had no effect on the freezing cursor.

Thanks to anyone in advance who can offer any advice!

Forgot to add:

If it matters, I run AdAware about twice a week religiously. The only things I’ve ever picked up are garden-variety tracking cookies from Internet advertisers.

A memory leak occurs when a program grabs memory and forgets about it. It’s not using it, but it doesn’t tell the operating system, so the OS never reclaims it.

Since you’d need the source code to a program to fix a memory leak in that program, there’s not much you can do about it.

You can usually detect a “memory leak” by starting and then closing your normally used programs one by one and seeing if your available system resources percentage pops back to normal after you close them. This will normally let you identifiy the misbehaving application. You will also want to download the free utilities “Adaware” and “Spybot” (use both) to clean out any spyware/crapware/annoyware/hijackware hitch hiking applets which are everywhere nowdays.

77 % free resources is about what I’d expect on a system like yours although you can typically get to the 80’s or low 90’s by paring down startup applets. If you are running Win 98 adding additional RAM beyond your 128 megs onboard is not going to help you that much in real world terms for the things you are doing. If your mouse is freezing with 77% free it’s not likely that it’s a memory leak.

FWIW it also sounds like this might possibly be a hardware issue like overheating. Check to make sure your Power Supply and CPU fans are working continuously.


Are you running Kazaa in the background?

Is your mouse USB o r PS2

As the PC is failing does the available system resouces percentage change?

I’d guess it was too hot. Notice it happens when you keep the computer on longer? Turning it off & on cools it down. You can take the case top off & point a fan at it & if this works then you know you need more fans inside.


Q: “Are you running Kazaa in the background?”

A: Nope, no Kazaa – I’ve seen the damage that can do to computers. Actually, there is very little running in the background that I’m aware of – I really pared this down a lot in MSCONFIG.

Q: “Is your mouse USB or PS2?”

A: It’s a USB mouse now. I’ve been having it for a few months. The original mouse was PS2, and it worked great for about 3 years, but recently it seemed to be shot. The computer quit recognizing that the PS2 mouse was even connected to the computer – that prompted me to buy a new mouse.

Q: “As the PC is failing does the available system resouces percentage change?”

A: I don’t know – I’ll have to check that.

Thanks for your help!

It might not be a virus, but why not check anyway? You could have any number of things on your system that are not causing trouble, but you still don’t want around. Apparently AVG is a pretty good free scanner, so take a look. You might just catch a larger problem before it happens.

I should have mentioned in the OP, but forgot: I’ve found no correlation between any specific program being run and the freezes occuring. It happens when I’m using IE. It happens when I’m using Word. When I’m using PC Anywhere to telecommute. When my wife fiddles around in Outlook. Etc.

It’s really sounding more like a hardware issue. Open up your PC chassis and see if the CPU and PS fans are operating continuously and not stopping or jamming. You can also get a powerful floor or desk fan and blast air right into the chassis for direct cooling. If the system does not fail as quickly it’s likely a component heating issue.

Do you have other USB stuff attached?

Detach the mouse and let it run for a few hours. Then use the keyboard tab and arrow scrolling keys to try and move around. Does it still jam even with the mouse detached?

Astro, the only other USB device attached is either a webcam or an HP digital camers – I switch them out as needed.

I’ll try your other suggestions this evening. Thanks!

If there is a gimpy fan, I hope it can be fixed inexpensively.

Fans are usually only a few bucks and are easily replaced.

I would bet on heat or spyware.
See if your bios has a temperature monitor. Leave the machine off so it’s at room temperature. Start it up and go into the bios/ temperature monitor. Let it idle for about ten minutes and see what the temp climbs to. It should be in the 30-40C range (Celerons don’t usually run too hot). Once it’s maxed, reboot the machine and use it normally. After say 1/2 hour, reboot, go to the bios temp monitor and check the temp. It should not be much hotter than its max idle temp.

If it is noticably hotter, you may need a new cpu fan or it may be clogged with dust. If it’s clean, unobstucted and running OK, check the box fan(s) if you have any. Make sure they’re running, clean and unobstructed. Make sure all the ribbon cables are clear of the cpu and box fans and not forming a barrier to airflow, even if they’re not close to the fans. If all this is OK, consider adding another box fan.
Try the above test without the case cover on.

As astro says, run both adaware and spybot. Finish “cleaning” out the startup stuff you see in msconfig.

If neither works, shut off all startup processes or run in safe mode for awhile and see if the locking up stops. This would point to a TSR in one of the processes. Add things you want to the startup list one-by-one, checking for locking up between each thing. You might find the smoking gun that way.

You know … a few months ago, there was dust caked on the back of the case right at where I believe the fan take in air. I cleaned it up on the outside, but I really let it go too long. Perhaps I need to open the case and check for dust buildup inside the case.


Mea culpa.

Just stay away from WinME. It has it’s own memory leak built right in!


Win98 has been so reliable for me that I hesitate to switch.

I’ve heard bad about WinME, but great things about WinXP. A lot of folks in my office use XP at home and love it. I am intrigued.


I had great success managing my memory on a system similar to yours by religiously following the sage advice of Dan “Tweak Monkey” Kennedy’s website, :
W9x Tweak Guide
System Startup Tweak Guide
Hard Drive/Memory Tweak Guide

If you follow all of the instructions with which you are comfortable, chances are you’ll wind up de-fragging your hard drive, compressing your registry, and using Microsoft’s double-secret TweakUI program to kill off the dozens of programs which insist on hogging your memory at startup even though you don’t use them. I got my free memory at startup up to 95% by using those guides and other goodies posted at that site.

As always, back up everything important, including your registry before you start mucking around with your computer.

If I had to guess, my bet would be it’s the autostarting programs which are causing you grief. My 98SE system needed only three programs at startup: explorer, another important one which I can’t remember, and my registry backup program (which you should definitely have if you’re using W98).

However, handy may also have a point. A quick way to check is to remove your case cover and make sure all fans are turning at startup, particularly your CPU fan, but also the intake fan in the front and the power supply fan (don’t mess with your power supply unless you really know what you’re doing).

Yes, you absolutely do need to get a can of air and give the computer a good dusting. Make sure you’re shut down, and the power cable is removed. Dust with wild abandon, with the canned air.

Care to give us a list of what you’ve still got checked under msconfig?

Daizy, I’ll have to wait until I get back home. But I’ll get a list up for y’all before too long.

The list is pretty short now, because I’ve already done a lot of pruning.

Speaking of Windows XP, I solved all of my memory problems by building a new system around XP Pro and two 512 MB sicks of high-speed memory.

It still has some memory problems (for example, Adobe Acrobat/Reader somehow steals 20 mb of memory and keeps it forever), but who cares? With a gig of RAM, I can leak like the Titanic for days and everything is still supa-smoove.

My experience with XP Pro has been nothing but positive (even though I hate that product activation BS, which I’m convinced they’re gonna use to kill off the product in five years and make you buy their latest OS). It’s the product MS should have perfected in 1995.

Unfortunately, that’s by design. When you first open a PDF, notice how it takes forever to open Acrobat? Close it and wait a few minutes and open another - it should open in about 1/4 of the time - that’s because Reader stays open. The only way I know to fix tihs is to use Task Manager to kill the ACRORD32 process.

No, they’re just gonna kill product activation, not the OS itself.

Well, yeah. But that would have required them to dump their entire “consumer operating sstem” line and work exclusively on NT, which wasn’t very practical for hardware support and ease of use issues. At the time.