Signs of a struggling system

My Windows 7 Lenovo X300 laptop has recently started going into a hard disk trash state every half-hour or so. When this occurs, the hard disk activity light indicator is completely solid and the system is very unresponsive. The HD thrash period usually lasts around 10 to 20 seconds, but sometimes longer.

At first I thought it may be a problem with a wrongly configured services (disk defrag kicking in, or indexing, or virus scanning, etc.) but I've since turned all those off and the problem still occurs. Taking a look at the Task Manager Performance Tab and the Resource Monitor seems to suggest my system is running out of physical memory (2GB RAM).

Screenshots of these look as follows:




At first I didn't think it was a memory problem as the Task Manager still shows 223 MB as available (this never seems to go below 200), although 0MB free sounds troubling. The Resource Monitor disk activity tab shows the HD going into a spin with 100% utilization (see graphs), and the process responsible for this is 'System'. I'm guessing this is the OS running out of memory and trying to move things around from cache to the page file and to actual RAM.

The problem is reproducible easily enough, all I have to do is open lots of youtube or other tabs in Chrome or FireFox and the 'spin-of-death' starts. Likewise closing off a few programs restores stability. Furthermore, once the system is stable again, switching tabs in Chrome exhibits considerable lag. I'm guessing this is because the tab contents are swapped out of physical memory and committed to cache, hence the OS has to reload them from disk.

I think it would've been nice if Windows could detect conditions like this, and if they occur frequently enough it could prompt you that you're running out of memory and should tweak your page-file, or close programs you don't need, or buy more RAM. Letting the OS just break down and thrash the hardware leaves a bad impression, especially if you don't know what's happening (again, the Resource Monitor never shows memory usage going over 90% so one may think it's not a RAM issue).

Needless to say, I've now put an order in for an extra 2GB of RAM and should be upgrading soon. I'd expect these issues to go away, unless I'm way off and have some rogue service/program playing tricks on me.

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