What If Your Computer Runs Out of Resources?

by Carson
computer overwhelmed

Programs, in theory, can allocate an infinite amount of resources, but all system resources, no matter how powerful a computer is, is always finite. So what happens if your computer is in a shortage of resources? Let’s find out in this article.

Types of Resources

To understand what happens if your computer runs out of resources, you first need to understand what system resources are. Those are things that are required for your computer to execute instructions and store data. This includes essential resources like the CPU, RAM, and hard drive space and more advanced ones like interrupt request lines and I/O resources.

Computer resources are being managed and allocated efficiently by your operating system. But no matter how great the algorithm is, as long as there is only a finite amount of things to work with, there will always be cases where programs gobble up so many resources that a shortage occurs. Let’s explore how this problem plays out on your computer and how you can correct it in this article.

What Happens When Your Computer Lacks CPU resources?

When the system is starting to lack CPU resources, the operating system can’t help but slow down processes. This doesn’t only account for the limited amount of computational power on your computer but also the potential problems that arise from overheating. The fans may already be turning at maximum speed, but the temperature of your hardware may still be scorching. Therefore, to keep temperatures safe, the operating system and the CPU can implement throttling, which slows down the CPU’s clock speed to let the processor cool down.

If you see a high CPU usage in the process manager and programs are running slower than usual, the overuse of CPU resources should be the culprit.

What If Your Computer is in a Memory Shortage?

Things get more interesting when your device lacks available RAM resources. When there isn’t enough memory to be used by programs, operating systems cope with that by creating a swap file, which is a file on your hard drive that stores the data that programs are using. Remember that I/O operations are much slower from a hard drive than from RAM, even though hard disks are getting faster over time.

As the swap file increases in size, more data must go through the disk, and the data retrieval process becomes more stagnant, to the point that programs are simply waiting for the values of variables most of the time. This phenomenon is called thrashing, and in fact, we have written a dedicated article about that. Therefore, if you notice your computer being slow and the CPU usage being very low, the lack of RAM might be the culprit.

disk swap

Eventually, the computer becomes less and less responsive, and memory could be used up to the point that allocation errors start to occur. This is a severe issue, as failing to allocate a variable can cause a program, if not the whole system, to crash by segmentation fault, possibly causing a user to lose all unsaved data. To prevent this problem, the operating system can terminate processes on its own when it thinks the system is dangerously low on memory. The processes it kills are often the programs that take up memory aggressively, so if your program is being killed for no apparent reason, you should see if you are taking up too much memory that it’s causing system instability.

In severe cases where your computer is close to running out of resources, it can result in resource starvation. It means that some lower-priority processes are waiting for an unacceptable amount of time, possibly forever, for the system resources needed for execution. This phenomenon can render apps and programs completely unresponsive and severely disrupt the user experience when using the device.

What Should You Do When Your Computer Runs Out of Resources?

If you notice your computer being slow or producing unexpected and occasional errors unrelated to network connection, you should suspect an overload on your computer’s resources. In this case, check your computer’s process manager, find the processes hogging the most CPU and RAM resources, and terminate those if you don’t have any unsaved data.

If you find that your program is consuming excessive amounts of memory or CPU cycles, consider whether it should be doing so. If not, it’s time to debug your code. Take a look at the variables in your code. Can you garbage-collect some bulky ones once they are not in use? How about regenerating some variables dynamically if you can easily do so? Can you redesign your program to take up less memory throughout its usage? These are just some questions you should ask while optimizing your program for minimal memory usage.

If the issue is still not solved, try restarting your computer. This reinitializes the state of the operating system and closes all processes for the system can start fresh in a cleaner state. However, if the CPU or memory usage is consistently at intolerable levels right after your computer restarts, or if other functions are also affected, it might indicate that malware is lurking inside your computer that needs to be cleared. Check out this article for recommendations on removing malware from your devices.

If you don’t think there is any malware on your computer, you might have no solution but to upgrade your hardware to get rid of this issue and use your computer smoothly.


In this article, we have mentioned the consequences when your programs and apps demand more resources than your computer can easily handle. We have also explained how we should rectify the issue when your computer becomes slow due to a shortage of resources. If you want to learn more about related things, please visit the webpages in the references below. Also, if we have missed anything you would like us to include, please leave them in the comments below.


  1. Tim Fisher. (2021, October 8). What Are the Types of System Resources in a Computer? Retrieved September 5, 2022, from https://www.lifewire.com/what-is-a-system-resource-2626016
  2. (n.d.). What Is Throttling and How Can It Be Resolved? Retrieved September 5, 2022, from https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/support/articles/000088048/processors.html
  3. Michele Mancioppi. (2020, November 16). Solving the Out of Memory Killer Puzzle. Retrieved September 5, 2022, from https://www.instana.com/blog/solving-the-out-of-memory-killer-puzzle/

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