What Does "Out of Memory" (OOM) Mean?

April 18, 2024

Out of Memory, or OOM, is an error message that signals that your system's resources are being stretched beyond their limits. 

What Does "Out of Memory" Mean?

An Out of Memory (OOM) error occurs when a computer does not have enough memory to perform an operation or run an application. This memory could be physical RAM (Random Access Memory) or virtual memory, which extends physical memory using disk space. When the system exhausts available memory, it can no longer fulfill requests for memory allocation, resulting in an OOM error. This error indicates that the system cannot handle further demands unless memory is freed up or added.

“Out of Memory” Error Examples

Out of Memory (OOM) errors can manifest in various ways depending on the task. Here are some examples that illustrate common scenarios where these errors occur.

  • While running large software. When you attempt to run a program that requires more memory than what is available, the system might freeze or crash entirely, displaying an OOM error message. This scenario is common with high-end video editing or 3D modeling software on computers not equipped with adequate RAM.
  • During extensive data processing tasks. When large datasets are processed, such as during big data analysis or extensive scientific computations, the system may run out of memory. This scenario often happens in environments where memory allocation has not been optimized for the task at hand.

How to Troubleshoot an “Out of Memory” Error?

When dealing with OOM errors, it's crucial to apply targeted troubleshooting strategies based on the context in which the errors occur.

In Web Browsers

Web browsers often encounter OOM errors, especially when too many tabs are open, or a website consumes a significant amount of memory due to complex scripts or multimedia content.

  • Close unnecessary tabs. Reducing the number of open tabs frees up memory.
  • Disable extensions. Some browser extensions consume a lot of memory. Disabling them can alleviate the problem.
  • Increase virtual memory. Increasing the size of the virtual memory file used by your operating system helps manage memory more efficiently. This adjustment involves increasing the swap memory, a section of the hard drive designated as additional RAM.

In Desktop Applications

Graphic design or video editing software often runs out of memory when handling large files or performing intensive operations.

  • Optimize usage settings. Adjust the application settings to lower memory usage. For example, reduce the undo history or lower the project resolution.
  • Upgrade physical memory. If recurrent OOM errors occur with specific applications, you may need to add more RAM to your system.
  • Monitor and manage running processes. Close unneeded applications or processes that consume a lot of memory.

How to Monitor Memory Usage?

Monitoring memory usage is crucial for maintaining optimal performance and preventing OOM errors. Here is how you can keep an eye on your system's memory usage:

  • Use built-in system tools. Most operating systems include tools that can show current memory usage, such as Task Manager in Windows or Activity Monitor in macOS.
  • Install third-party applications. Many software tools provide detailed insights into memory usage and management.
  • Regular checks. Make it a habit to regularly check memory usage, especially before running memory-intensive applications. Doing so will help you take preemptive actions to free up resources and prevent OOM errors.

Nikola is a seasoned writer with a passion for all things high-tech. After earning a degree in journalism and political science, he worked in the telecommunication and online banking industries. Currently writing for phoenixNAP, he specializes in breaking down complex issues about the digital economy, E-commerce, and information technology.