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HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows

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Rudster816
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2011/04/13 13:51:32 (permalink)
Overview:
 
The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how to disable the self imposed 4GB memory limit on 32 Bit (x86) versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7. If your wondering why I said "self imposed", its because the 4GB limit is not a limitation of the 32 Bit operating mode on modern x86 CPU's. Most modern CPU's (Since the Pentium Pro Era, circa 1995) have included support for the Page Address Extension (PAE). This allows those CPU's supporting that feature to effectively address up to 64GB of total memory. Something else you might want to read would be 3GB Barrier. This explains why even with 4GB of memory, you usually dont see all of it.
 
So why does Microsoft 32 Bit versions of Vista and 7 only support 4GB of memory? Its not because they don't support the PAE feature of x86 CPU's, but rather because they self impose the limit. The reason they do this is because some old 32 Bit drivers that directly accessed memory through there physical addresses assumed that the address space space 32 bits (when its actually 36 bits with PAE enabled). However, these drivers are few and far between, as Microsoft as not only discouraged this, but I don't believe they will certify a 32 Bit driver if they assume so. Not only that, drivers that need to do so are not very common. In fact x86 version of Windows XP and Windows XP SP1 support more than 4GB of memory, with the self imposed limit first occurring in the SP2 update.
 
So how can you get rid of this limit? Well, its not a simple registry edit (unfortunately). You must modify the NT kernel itself to change the way it executes. While this is easy enough with a hex editor, you cannot simply modify system files without Windows knowing and preventing itself from loading. In fact, if you simply modify the kernel, upon restart windows will automatically enter repair mode (it did for me) which will restore the system files back to there original state.
 
You must do several additonal steps in order to get Windows to load and execute the modified kernel. You must first redo the checksum for the kernel, then resign the kernel itself and run Windows in Test Mode. Test Mode simply allows drivers that have been signed from an untrusted source to run. This is normally used for driver developers to test there drivers before having Microsoft sign them.
 
Tools:

Hex Editor: I will be using HxD in the example. You can download it here.
 
You will also need to have some tools that are provided with Visual Studio. Unfortunately, you have to install Visual Studio C++ Express edition in order to get them.  The 2008 version will work, so I would recommend downloading that. You can find it here. Select Visual Studio 2008 Express on the top bar, then Visual C++ 2008 Edition. Its a fairly large download (70MB ish I believe) but its definitely worth it if it means gaining the ability to use another GB of RAM or more.
 
Disclaimer:

 You will be copying the kernel, and modifying it, and creating a new boot option to load it. This should allow you to boot to the unmodified kernel any time you like, but it still poses risks. Im not responsible for any damage you do to your computer. If you screw up the normal kernel and cannot load windows, you should be able to repair the install without the install disk. Worst case scenario you have to reinstall Windows. But if have a machine with 4GB+ of RAM with an x86 version of Windows 7\Vista (surprisingly common with OEMs) then this hack can let you access all of your RAM without having to shell out any cash for a x64 version of Windows.
 
Even if you successfully modify the kernel and can run Windows, your computer may become unstable because of drivers that were poorly written. However, I doubt you will have troubles running most drivers.
 
Procedure:
 
The very first thing you need to do is take ownership of the kernel file you will be modifying. By default system files are owned by the user Trusted Installer, so you cant modify them. In order to do this you need to open up the command  prompt. Search for cmd and it should come right up. Its in the Windows\System32 folder if you have trouble finding it, You must use the run as admistrator option if you have UAC enabled as well. Then type the following command.
takeown /f ntkrnlpa.exe

Note that you must be in the C:\Windows\System32 folder (you will have to change the drive letter if appropriate) in order for this to work. You can get there by using this command
cd C:\Windows\System32

 

 
Now navigate to the System32 in windows explorer (the normal folder browser), and right click ntkrnlpa and go to properties. Open up the Security tab, click Edit, Administrators, and enable Full Control. Now copy ntkrnlpa.exe, and paste it on to your desktop and rename it to ntkl64g (you can choose any name you like, just be sure to make the appropriate changes in the commands listed later). If Windows is giving you grief about the copy\paste operation, this probably means you didnt properly grant yourself full control.
 
Next you will need to open up the new file in a Hex Editor. Please note that the following values are in Hexadecimal.
 
Search for the hex string 7C 11 8B 45 FC 85 C0 74 0A and 7C 10 8B 45 FC 85 C0 74 09. (when you search for it, dont include the spaces) They should be very close together, known file offsets for the versions are listed below.
 6.0.6000.16386    Windows Vista         0x003040B1, 0x003040F2        
6.0.6001.18000     Windows Vista SP1     0x00309AA3, 0x00309AE4
6.0.6002.18005     Windows Vista SP2     0x0030C43A, 0x0030C47B
6.1.7600.16385     Windows 7             0x0035C243, 0x0035C283

 
You will need to change the 8B 45 FC 85 C0 74 xx part of both strings with B8 00 00 02 00 90 90. You can see exactly how you do this in HxD in the screenshots below.
 

 

 
Remember that you have to do this for BOTH strings.
 
Now open up command prompt again (remember to run as administrator), you will need to do several things.
1. Set the Visual Studio tool variables.
2. Change the new kernels checksum
3. Make a new certificate to sign it with
4. Sign the new kernel with your certificate
5. Create a new bootloader option to boot the modified kernel (easier than it sounds).
 
The commands for the first 4 steps should looks something like this
cd C:\Program Files\Microsoft Visual Studio 9.0\VC
vcvarsall
cd C:\Windows\System32
editbin /release ntkl64g.exe
makecert -r -ss my -n "CN=My Cert"
signtool sign -s my -n "My Cert" ntkl64g.exe

 
The output should looks very similar to mine below. Note that I have VS2010 installed, which is why it says "Visual Studio 10.0" and not 9.0. 
 

 
Now you will need to create the new settings. This can be done with the following commands. Note that you can use any name you choose for your settings, and that the bcdedit command is available without setting the Visual Studio variables.
 

bcdedit /copy {current} /d "Windows 7 - All Memory"  
bcdedit /set {guid} pae ForceEnable
bcdedit /set {guid} kernel ntkl64g.exe
bcdedit /set {guid} testsigning on

 

 
You will have to replace the {guid} part with the guid the first command gives you. This will be a long string of hex characters. You will have to type it out for the first command, but after that, just press the up key, and your previous command will show up, just delete the "pae ForceEnable" part, and add then ext command. The entire command output (above part included) can be seen below.
 
Now reboot and you select your new setting. It will appear as if it is a separate Windows installation (but its obviously not). If everything worked Windows should boot like normal. If Windows goes in to repair mode, you probably didnt redo the checksum\resign the modified kernel property. If you run in to another issue, the hack might not work on your system. Dont panic, simply reboot and use the normal "Windows 7" option. If its still not working properly (this shouldnt happen), then reboot again, and repair the Windows installation (remember you dont need the install disk to do this anymore).
 

 
Results on my VMware Virtual Machine with it set to 4096MB:
 
BEFORE:

http://i175.photobucket.c.../windows7x86before.png
 

 
AFTER:
 
http://i175.photobucket.c...6/windows7x86after.png  

 
 
Conclusion:


The process is by no means simple or safe, but it does work in most cases. If you have a computer with 4GB of RAM or more and only have a 32 Bit version of Windows Vista\7, then this hack can save you the $100 if you were going to go out and buy a x64 version of Windows. There are a lot of OEM's that still ship 32 Bit versions of Vista\7 with computers that have 4GB of memory (and sometimes more), and there is no reason that you should be stuck with the 4GB limitation in all cases.
 
Good Luck!
post edited by Rudster816 - 2011/04/13 19:53:53

[22:00:32] NordicJedi: the only way i can read this chatroom is if i imagine you're all dead
 

#1

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    moose517
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2011/04/13 13:55:08 (permalink)
    Great guide rud, recommend BR
    #2
    emepror
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2011/04/13 13:56:53 (permalink)
    wow, very detailed guide, hopefully some can put it to good use!

     

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    nenad16
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2011/04/13 14:05:19 (permalink)
    excellent guide, definitely BR worthy!
     
    on a side note, moose is not an admin anymore?

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    z3r0t0l0rence
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2011/04/13 14:21:50 (permalink)
    Awesome guide for those still running 32 bit MS OS. 
     
    BR worthy for sure!

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    #5
    heymike_s
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2011/04/13 14:31:40 (permalink)
    Rudster816
       and there is reason that you should be stuck with the 4GB limitation in all cases.

    and there "is" or was it supposed to be "is no" reason?

      

    #6
    Rudster816
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2011/04/13 14:53:00 (permalink)
    heymike_s

    Rudster816
      and there is reason that you should be stuck with the 4GB limitation in all cases.

    and there "is" or was it supposed to be "is no" reason?

     
    Obviously I have strategically placed typos for people to create in order to determine if people are actually reading it.
     
    and yes, it was supposed to be "is no". Thanks for pointing that out.

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    #7
    [WildDog]
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2011/04/13 14:56:10 (permalink)
    great guide dude

    #8
    fredbsd
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2011/04/13 15:02:23 (permalink)
    You mention you doubt people will have issues with drivers.   Curious how much testing you have done w/ this hacked system.
     
    But, nice guide nonetheless (albeit it is a direct violation of the MS policies).
     
     
     

    "BSD is what you get when a bunch of Unix hackers sit down to try to port a Unix system to the PC. Linux is what you get when a bunch of PC hackers sit down and try to write a Unix system for the PC."
    #9
    Rudster816
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2011/04/13 15:36:21 (permalink)
    fredbsd

    You mention you doubt people will have issues with drivers.   Curious how much testing you have done w/ this hacked system.

    But, nice guide nonetheless (albeit it is a direct violation of the MS policies).

     
    I guess I will provide some rationale behind the statement.
     
    When you go about coding a driver, you want it to run on all systems, x86, x64, Windows 2000, XP, Vista, 7, etc. Specifically were interested in x86\x64 versions, so we will focus on that. Since the x86-x64 extension has been around since 2002, the vast majority of drivers have been written in an agnostic way such that it doesnt matter the size of the physical address space. Also PAE has been around since 1995, and most people writing drivers no longer assumed a 32 bit address space after it came out. Its been 16 years, so most drivers that did have either been updated, or the associated hardware is no longer supported.
     
    Also, this hack specifically targets Vista\7 (could probably work with XP SP2\SP3 as well), so that means every driver used for these systems has been updated at the release time of the respective OS's.
     
    Very few drivers actually directly access memory. Most of the drivers that do are provided my Microsoft, which have undoubtedly been programmed with PAE in mind because server versions of x86 Windows support the full 64GB of memory.
     
    As mentioned above, some versions of x86 Windows do support the full address space with PAE enabled. That means if the driver developer wanted there driver to work with those versions, they must have correctly accounted for the PAE feature.
     
    Its for these reasons I feel like this will work for the vast majority of people who wish to try this. Its easy enough to restore if you do have a device that insnt compatible as well. I also have a feeling one of the primary reasons Microsoft chose to do this is to have people buy there x64 versions of there OS instead of the x86 versions because of there ongoing relationship with Intel.
     
    As far as testing, I have only tested it in my VMware VM. Its impossible for me to do any significant amount of testing as far as driver compatibility.

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    #10
    VistaHead
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2011/04/13 17:20:32 (permalink)
    What word is missing in the following?  Is it, "need to change"?
    "You will need to the 8B 45 FC 85 C0 74 xx part of both strings with B8 00 00 02 00 90 90. You can see exactly how you do this in HxD in the screenshots below."
    My wife's PC is using W7 Ultimate with 4GB of RAM, so I am very interested in trying this.
    #11
    Rudster816
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2011/04/13 19:56:33 (permalink)
    VistaHead

    What word is missing in the following?  Is it, "need to change"?
    "You will need to the 8B 45 FC 85 C0 74 xx part of both strings with B8 00 00 02 00 90 90. You can see exactly how you do this in HxD in the screenshots below."
    My wife's PC is using W7 Ultimate with 4GB of RAM, so I am very interested in trying this.

     
    Yeah. Guess I should have had someone proof read it a little more before I posted it. Seems like when you read something after typing it all out there are no typos. Then you go back a day later and find half a dozen mistakes.
     
    If you need help you can stop by the chat, I should be in there like I normally am for the next hour or two before I go to bed. http://www.evga.com/evgachat

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    #12
    VistaHead
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2011/04/14 05:15:17 (permalink)
    ^^^ Thanks.  I just wanted to make sure that it was the correct action before I try this.
    #13
    SirMaster
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2011/05/03 00:53:52 (permalink)
    Another simple way to use lots of RAM on a 32bit OS is to create a RAM drive with any RAM over 4GB and then move your pagefile to the ram drive.

    So when windows runs out of RAM it will begin to page to the pagefile on the RAM drive which is now just RAM.

    I've used is to use 8GB of ram back on Windows XP before VIsta and 7 and it was working quite well. I was able to work with large photoshop projects and boot lots and lots of virtual machines without slowdown like when I didn't have the RAM drive activated.


    #14
    ryanw1184
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2011/05/05 10:01:26 (permalink)
    wait a minute.
     
    4gb is a memory addressing limitation in 64 bit?
     
    Hows this doing to change that.
    #15
    henrytm82
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2011/10/31 09:02:18 (permalink)
    I know this is a really old thread, and I hate to be the guy who performs internet necromancy on something that's out-dated, but it's so far the best resource I've found for answers to some questions.
     
    One thing I'd like to ask the author of this excellent guide, if you're still paying any attention to this thread, is just how effective you think this method would be on a 32-bit Windows XP machine?
     
    It's a bit of a pet project of mine, just something I'm toying around with to see what kinds of performance I can coax out of a Frankenstein machine on as little of a budget as possible. It's based on a stripped-out HP Pavilion a1630n. I put a new HDD in it and installed the machine's original factory OS, which was WinXP MCE 2005, and I'm about to see how far I can push the stock Asus motherboard.
     
    I'm starting with this motherboard's HP-approved maximum - 4GB of PC5200 RAM - but I've obviously run into the problem of 32-bit Windows only having access to 3.2GB, which leaves me about a gig shy of what I've got.
     
    I read on another site (I can't post a link since I'm a new member - a google search for "Debunking the widespread myth of 2^32=4GB" will bring up the article), that  "patching the kernel won't help Windows XP see more than 4GB of RAM". Does this mean using the method in your guide won't help at all, or that I can get the benefit of this guide's method to get XP to read all 4 GB of RAM, but no more than that?
     
    If it's the latter, I'm okay with that, and I'll just forge ahead knowing that 4GB is all I can get with this machine without upgrading the OS (which I may do). But if it's the former, I'll definitely need to upgrade.
    #16
    Dalladrion
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2012/06/28 09:21:37 (permalink)
    Ok so I successfully come to the part where you need to enter this command in the cmd: editbin /release ntkl64g.exe, but that's where it starts to mess around with me, it says that LINK : fatal error LNK1104: cannot open file 'ntkl64g.exe'     ....
     
    And then when I decided to proceed anyway, when i typed the command: makecert -r -ss my -n "CN=My Cert"    ....
    It says that: 'makecert' is not recognized as an internal or external command, operable program or batch file.
     
    And that's where I decided to come for help because I don't want to mess something up...
     
    So... Help? Please?
    #17
    touche
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2012/07/22 08:00:53 (permalink)
    Dalladrion

    Ok so I successfully come to the part where you need to enter this command in the cmd: editbin /release ntkl64g.exe, but that's where it starts to mess around with me, it says that LINK : fatal error LNK1104: cannot open file 'ntkl64g.exe'     ....

    And then when I decided to proceed anyway, when i typed the command: makecert -r -ss my -n "CN=My Cert"    ....
    It says that: 'makecert' is not recognized as an internal or external command, operable program or batch file.

    And that's where I decided to come for help because I don't want to mess something up...

    So... Help? Please?

     
    What version of Windows are you running?

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    #18
    antekm
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2012/10/22 12:29:37 (permalink)
    How to do it in xp pro?
     
    #19
    tpb7463
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2012/10/22 21:04:04 (permalink)
    Nice guide, but I'd assume this all goes down the drain when you install the inevitable next Service Pack.

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    #20
    antekm
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2012/10/24 13:55:30 (permalink)
    Bump.. Any ideas for the xp pro version?
    #21
    andycwmw
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2012/11/04 17:45:37 (permalink)
    Not sure about enabling it as RAM, but there are instructions for using the the non-usable memory as a RAM Disk, which does supposedly increase performance, but i've never had enough RAM in an XP machine to warrant trying.
     
    THIS IS NOT FOR Win 7, sadly, just XP.
    as i am new member (joined to post this) i cannot post links, however the title of the article is:
     
    Making Use Of Non-Addressable Wasted RAM On 32 Bit Systems
    can be found under "/RAMDisk" on the site megaleecher . net 
     
    If you own a 32-Bit  with more then 3 GB of RAM you must be knowing that your operating-system can only make use of roughly 3 GB RAM and rest remains unused because of , today I will be showing how you can make use of this wasted memory improving your computer speed significantly.
    The best way to utilize this wasted memory and speed-up your computer is to use it as an RAMDISK, storing frequently accessed temporary files like system pagefile, temp-files and web-browser cache, since I/O operations to RAM is significantly faster then disk you will greatly benefit from using RAMDISK as a temporary file storage.
     
     
    I tried a similar techniqe to the OP, but couldn't succesfully boot with my custom kernel.
     
    Hopefully this works better. I'll report back on results.
    #22
    mikele59
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2012/12/07 15:32:54 (permalink)
     
    Hello all
     
    Is there any way to do that for windows 8 enterprise ?
     
    regards
    #23
    touche
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2012/12/07 21:44:02 (permalink)
    mikele59

     
    Hello all

    Is there any way to do that for windows 8 enterprise ?

    regards

     
    I'm going to say there is not.  At this point in the game, it's worth just upgrading to a 64-bit OS.

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    #24
    rjohnson11
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2012/12/08 02:12:16 (permalink)
    I'm in complete agreement. It's far better to simply install a 64 bit operating system. If the total amount of motherboard ram and GPU ram exceed 4GB then a 64GB operating system is far better.
     
    touche

    mikele59


    Hello all

    Is there any way to do that for windows 8 enterprise ?

    regards


    I'm going to say there is not.  At this point in the game, it's worth just upgrading to a 64-bit OS.



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    #25
    mikele59
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2012/12/08 06:14:34 (permalink)
    frankly I loved my W7 with this tweak... 64 bit need a compleeeeeete reinstallation and all my 16 and 32 bit soft will never use full ram so its really ridiculous for me to do that.
    I have to come back to W7 this is a best thing I have to do, W8 is not better.
    post edited by mikele59 - 2012/12/08 06:24:30
    #26
    rjohnson11
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2012/12/09 02:44:15 (permalink)
    mikele59

    frankly I loved my W7 with this tweak... 64 bit need a compleeeeeete reinstallation and all my 16 and 32 bit soft will never use full ram so its really ridiculous for me to do that.
    I have to come back to W7 this is a best thing I have to do, W8 is not better.

     
    Have to disagree with your Win 8 comment. My Win 8 system shows a 5 to 10 percent improvement on speed and copying.

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    #27
    mikele59
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2012/12/09 07:20:03 (permalink)
    I dont know what speed or copying you speak about exactly ? but personaly I can say that windows 8 is 50% slower than 7 with 7zip with huge file, its the same with Mpeg4Modifier or video encoder = windows 8 is 50% slower than seven. Acronis True Image is 2X slower with windows 8 than windows 7 and I use it every days... Not sure but I think Photoshop is worse with windows 8... But may be you mean about the windows boot, is that true we are about booting many time every days LOL
     
    And I agree with you : Everywhere we see that windows 8 is faster than windows 7 bla bla bla ding$ ding$ dong$ HO$ HO$ HO$. About that I can say I know personally a few journalists, it is pure marketing $$$. The last and not the least, I have hybrid momentus hard drive and windows 8 dont know it (!) because its slooooooooooooooower than 7.
     
    I'm sure that every day and each day I will find something disconcerting and pathetic with windows 8, not to mention the loss of aero or gadgets...
    post edited by mikele59 - 2012/12/09 14:04:58
    #28
    HeavyHemi
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2012/12/09 18:25:02 (permalink)
    mikele59

    I dont know what speed or copying you speak about exactly ? but personaly I can say that windows 8 is 50% slower than 7 with 7zip with huge file, its the same with Mpeg4Modifier or video encoder = windows 8 is 50% slower than seven. Acronis True Image is 2X slower with windows 8 than windows 7 and I use it every days... Not sure but I think Photoshop is worse with windows 8... But may be you mean about the windows boot, is that true we are about booting many time every days LOL

    And I agree with you : Everywhere we see that windows 8 is faster than windows 7 bla bla bla ding$ ding$ dong$ HO$ HO$ HO$. About that I can say I know personally a few journalists, it is pure marketing $$$. The last and not the least, I have hybrid momentus hard drive and windows 8 dont know it (!) because its slooooooooooooooower than 7.

    I'm sure that every day and each day I will find something disconcerting and pathetic with windows 8, not to mention the loss of aero or gadgets...

     
    Odd, but there must be something wrong with your system. I've used 7zip extensively and it's the same or slightly faster than on Win 7. Photoshop,  currently running CS6 64bit,  performs the same if not slightly better. Acronis the same. I've not used the other programs you listed. Given the literally thousands of real world users that are not reporting the issues you are...well figure the odds. BTW, why would you bother with a hybrid drive on a desktop anyway?
    post edited by HeavyHemi - 2012/12/09 18:28:44

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    #29
    mikele59
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    Re:HOW TO: Removing 4GB Memory Limit on 32 bit Windows 2012/12/09 21:19:29 (permalink)
    I run 32bit system, not 64. Lappy, not desktop. Nothing wrong, except windows 8 (!)
    My 7 is more faster than your 8 for sure...
    post edited by mikele59 - 2012/12/10 05:30:35
    #30
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