Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Yellow exclamation mark question

I have received variations of the following question several times from readers lately:

Q: How can I make the yellow exclamation mark (in my Taskbar) go away?
A: Actually, it is not a yellow exclamation mark (those appear in Device Manager) but a yellow triangle containing an exclamation point. It looks sort of like a “Yield” sign on the highway. When you see this icon in the Notification Area (the part of your Taskbar by the clock) it is Vista’s way of telling you that your virtual memory is getting low. (For more on virtual memory, and how it works, click here.)

‘Running low on virtual memory’ warnings are not a catastrophe, and needn’t cause undue alarm. What they do indicate however, is that you have an awful lot of processes running.. and this (usually) means that quite a few applications have sneaked into your Startup folder; and, that you have all of Vista’s bells-and-whistles turned on.

The place to start is taking a look at what programs and Services are set to load when Windows starts, and to “block” the ones you don’t really need to have running all the time (removing a program’s shortcut from your Startup folder does not remove the program). My article on this for Vista machines is here:, and for XP (and older) machines, here:
[Note: this tip is advisable even if you aren’t getting the yellow icon. Doing this will decrease your boot time, and generally make for a faster machine, as you won’t be wasting resources that can be used for other things.]

To take a quick look at what (and how many) Processes are running on your machine, open Task Manager and look at the Processes tab. (Naturally, I wrote an article on this topic also:

The best way to resolve virtual memory problems is to add more RAM to your machine. Period. I have mentioned before that Vista runs best with two Gigabytes of RAM, and will happily use more.

If adding RAM is not feasible, and stopping unnecessary processes fails to make the ‘low virtual memory’ icon go away, you can try manually telling Vista to allot more disk space to Virtual Memory. I must caution you that Microsoft advises against this in Vista.. and I agree. In my opinion, Vista is very good at managing virtual memory and it is better to just live with the yellow triangle than to use this old technique.
However, I do understand a little bit about Human Nature, and so I advise you to write down the current setting (and remember System Restore) in case you try this and then decide later I was right.

To manually set the Page File (aka “swap file”, aka “virtual” memory) size, open your System Properties (Control Panel, click on “System and Maintenance”, and then “System”). Click on “Advanced system settings”.
On the “Advanced” tab, click the top button, “Performance”, and click the “Settings” button.

Now select the “Advanced” tab again. The lower part of this window deals with Virtual Memory. Here is where you can enter a number that corresponds to how big a space you want to allocate. Click on the “Change” button.
Please understand, because of how an operating system uses page files, setting this number really has a limited effect: making it HUGE will not improve your machine’s performance HUGELY; you will in fact have just ‘whistled in the wind’.. But, making it a little bit bigger might make the yellow triangle go away.
**The Rule of Thumb for setting your (Max) size is to make it 1.5 times larger than your physical RAM: so if your machine has 1GB of RAM, you would enter “1536”MBs (1024 x 1.5).

Click on the “Change” button.
To make changes, you must uncheck the “Automatically manage..” checkbox at the top, and then select the “Custom size:” radio button. Now the areas that were ‘greyed out’ will become edit-able.
Vista is nice and helpful in that it offers a recommendation, and I suggest that you use the number you find there. Here is where manually entering the numbers does affect the efficiency of your swap file: enter the same number in both the Min (“Initial”) and the Max. Then click “Set”, and then “OK”.

That’s it, you’re done. (I really hope you used this as a “last resort”, though. This geek technique is really a holdover from the Windows 9x days.)

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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March 1, 2008 Posted by | computers, how to, PC, System Tray, Task Manager, Taskbar, tech, Vista, Windows | , , , , , , , | 6 Comments