15 March 2008

#62. A RAM Cleaner That Really Works

Welcome back to the Tool Bar & Grill, where we search through the Internet to find the best utilities and Web sites, and hand them to you on a silver platter. Today’s utility is a strong shot for weak computers, and it is chased with a rundown of the most important literature for document authors by Mark Lautman.

How To Cope When Memory Fails
If you search the Web, you will find dozens of free memory “optimizers.” These utilities claim to free up unused random access memory (RAM, which is your computer’s fast working memory) and/or defragment it. The more available RAM, the faster the computer. However, many experts say these RAM boosters do not work, and might even do more harm than good.

In fact, Microsoft Windows generally does a fine job of managing RAM. If a utility frees up RAM, it takes that memory away from a program that needs it. Windows might then have to use part of the hard disk as overflow RAM space, and the hard disk is much slower than RAM. So when I suggested in recent comments on other Web sites that I know of a RAM utility that really works, some techno-snobs derided the idea. Techno-snobs, eat your words!

Instant Memory Cleaner (freeware for Windows XP and Vista) actually is only a convenient, easy-to-use front-end GUI (graphical user interface) for the ClearMem (XP) and FreeMem (Vista) commands, which otherwise can only be executed from the DOS command line. Through these commands, Instant Memory Cleaner slaps each running program back down to its minimum RAM size. (This is more a bit effective in XP than in Vista.)

This trick is useful only for computers with limited RAM that tend to lock up or crash due to insufficient RAM or memory conflicts. If you have enough RAM (generally, 1 GB for XP systems and 2 GB for Vista), you don’t need Instant Memory Cleaner. And buying more RAM, if you can, is better than futzing around with utility programs.

Until recently, I was using an older Windows XP laptop with only 512 MB of RAM, which sometimes froze or crashed when RAM was inadequate. I intended to get a new laptop soon, so I didn't want to invest in more RAM. Instant Memory Cleaner solved the problem.

Of course, your programs will fill up the RAM again in a short time, if you keep using them. But this utility helps prevent a freeze when you see a RAM crisis coming. This gives you time to close some applications or reboot your system gracefully.

Instant Memory Cleaner also puts an icon in your system tray (a.k.a. the notification area) that constantly reports on the amount of used and free RAM.

So if your budget is as limited as your RAM, try Instant Memory Cleaner – and save up to buy some more memory soon.

And now for a special literature review from technical maven Mark Lautman.

Goldilocks and the Three Specs

by Mark Lautman

“Oh, but Grandmother, what a terrible big mouth you have,” said Little Red Riding Hood. “The better to eat you with,” replied the wolf as he pounced.

Then the hunter came into Grandma's house. He took a pair of scissors, and began to cut open the stomach of the sleeping wolf. When he had made two snips, he released Little Red Riding Hood. He made two snips more, and released Grandma. Little Red Riding Hood put large stones into the wolf's belly, and when he awoke, he wanted to run away, but the stones were so heavy that he collapsed at once, and fell dead.

So goes the ending of Grimm's classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. (A very good collection of these tales is here. Many parents read these tales to their children as bedtime stories – an abominable (or, in the wolf's case, abdominal) practice. These stories have no relation to reality. The ending is always good, the adults and animals are vilified, and the stories agitate children with their monsters and beasts. It's time for parents to join the modern age and read to their offspring literature that has lasting value… such as file specifications.

Here are my must-have recommendations of file format specs for any toddler:

Web Pages

The HTML specification from the World Wide Web consortium (W3C) is the absolute source for the HTML file format. If you follow the syntax and structure, you can rest assured that your page will display properly in every browser.
The CSS specification, also from the W3C, is the companion to the HTML spec: iron-clad rules for cascading style sheets that make your pages look spectacular with low maintenance effort.

The XML specification sets down the law for an XML file. Because reading applications such as web browsers are particular when it comes to loading XML files, it's very important to play by the rules. This spec also includes the syntax for a DTD (Document Type Definition).

Once you make an XML file, you need to do something with it. If you want to make a PDF file, you'll need the XSL specification, which details all the formatting options for text and pages. Rendering engines such as Apache's Formatting Objects Processor use this spec to turn XML files into PDFs.

Office Applications

WordprocessingML is the open-source file format for Microsoft Word documents. The historical importance of this specification cannot be overstated: it is the first time Microsoft placed some of its most treasured assets into the public domain. I couldn't find the specification itself on Microsoft's Web sites, but another very good source is here. With this specification, you can put your XML file through a rendering engine such as Saxon and generate Word files without the big price tag for Office!

OpenDocument is the specification for OpenOffice documents. It provides the details you need to create a spreadsheet, text file, presentation, drawing, or math formula that can be displayed in OpenOffice. This spec is very comprehensive, although not complete and could use some editing.

Rich Text Format

RTF isn't as popular as it used to be. (My sister tells me that this is still the format of choice when sharing between WordPerfect, Word, and some Mac users.) Nevertheless, if you get an old RTF file that you can't open, you may need to do some surgery that requires the specification, which you can find here.

Portable Document Format

Weighing in at 1,300 pages, the Adobe PDF specification is useful for learning the mechanics and limits of the almost universally recognized PDF file format.


The SVG specification lists all the features available for scalar vector graphics. If you've had a painter in your home that didn't follow directions (“paint this wall yellow, that wall green”), expressing yourself in the language of SVG may get you better results.

Lastly, the PNG specification explains the bits and bytes of this compressed graphic format.

Let's all hope that the current generation of young parents will abandon the model of Grimm's fairy tales, and introduce their children to literature that is realistic, providing hope with limitations, painting satisfying outcomes to life's difficult challenges. “Goldilocks tried the XML spec, but it was too restrictive. She tried the HTML spec, but it was too lax. She tried the XHTML 1.0 transitional spec, and it was just right.” —Mark Lautman

I hope you’ll come back for more great utility reviews every week, and bring all your friends! Please feel free to share your thoughts by clicking on “comments” below or writing to jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com.


  1. Hi Jonathan,

    I have tried Instant Memory Cleaner, however I would recommend a better option (probably the best in this category), which is fully automated, ProcessTamer:


    The other program you recommended, eBoostr, is also an excellent option.

  2. Anonymous, thank you for your suggestion, and for taking the time to write in. Process Tamer is a great utility, which I might review in a future post. However, it serves a different purpose: it throttles back the CPU usage of greedy programs - also a very useful function - whereas Instant Memory Cleaner tackles memory usage. BTW, my new favorite task manager, AnVir, also can do what Process Tamer does.

  3. I'm getting the time code error that the author of IMC mentions. His web site suggests changing the date format from YYYY/MM/DD to DD/MM/YYYY or MM/DD/YYYY. Any idea how to do that? When I try to adjust the date/time settings through the control panel, I get a clock and a calendar. I see no way to change the format in the way suggested.

  4. Thanks for writing in again, Anonymous (if you are the same one). I'm sorry, I have not encountered the error you mention, so I'll have to guess. Try Regional and Language Options in the Control Panel; then click Customize. There you can change the date format.

    I hope this helps!

  5. Sorry, Anon 1 and 2 are different.
    2 here now.
    I tried the regional options, and it look like my date format is the recommended format. Same result on 2 different computers. I guess the only thing to do now is email Vasilios and see what he says.

  6. Anon 2 again. Unfortunately Vasilios has never written back, so it looks like I won't be able to see if IMC will work.

  7. Hi Jonathan! Your blog is a great resource for utilities and reviews!

    I would like to mention some better "RAM Cleaners":
    MemInfo: http://www.carthagosoft.net/meminfo.htm
    FreeRAM XP Pro: http://www.yourwaresolutions.com/software.html
    RAMPage: http://www.jfitz.com/software/RAMpage/


  8. Ayush, thank you for taking the time to comment, and for your compliments. As for our suggestions, I am familiar with the three RAM cleaners you mentioned. I stand by my endorsement of IMC, which works a bit differently that those you mentioned, for the circumstances when it is needed (as described in my post). In fact, the RAMpage site admits that for Windows NT and up, it shouldn't have any effect. These utilities do place a handy RAM usage gauge in the system tray, but my favorite task manager, AnVir, does that too. Thank you again for visiting my blog!