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Using AWE

Updated: 14 April 2006

Microsoft SQL Server 2005 uses the Microsoft Windows Address Windowing Extensions (AWE) API to support very large amounts of physical memory. SQL Server 2005 can access up to 64 gigabytes (GB) of memory on Microsoft Windows 2000 Server and Microsoft Windows Server 2003.

Support for AWE is available only in the SQL Server 2005 Enterprise, Standard, and Developer editions and only applies to 32-bit operating systems. SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services (SSAS) cannot take advantage of AWE mapped memory. If the available physical memory is less than the user mode virtual address space, AWE cannot be enabled.

Standard 32-bit addresses can map a maximum of 4 GB of memory. The standard address spaces of 32-bit processes are therefore limited to 4 GB. By default, on 32-bit Microsoft Windows operating systems, 2 GB are reserved for the operating system, and 2 GB are made available to the application. If you specify a /3gb parameter in the Boot.ini file of Windows 2000 Advanced Server, the operating system reserves only 1 GB of the address space, and the application can access up to 3 GB. For more information about the /3gb parameter, see Process Address Space.

AWE is a set of extensions to the memory management functions of Windows that allow applications to address more memory than the 2-3 GB that is available through standard 32-bit addressing. AWE lets applications acquire physical memory, and then dynamically map views of the nonpaged memory to the 32-bit address space. Although the 32-bit address space is limited to 4 GB, the nonpaged memory can be much larger. This enables memory-intensive applications, such as large database systems, to address more memory than can be supported in a 32-bit address space.

Before you configure the operating system for AWE, consider the following:

  • AWE allows allocating physical memory over 4 GB on 32-bit architecture. AWE should be used only when available physical memory is greater than user-mode virtual address space.
  • To support more than 4 GB of physical memory on 32-bit operating systems, you must add the /pae parameter to the Boot.ini file and reboot the computer. For more information, see your Windows documentation.
    In Windows Server 2003, PAE is automatically enabled only if the server is using hot-add memory devices. In this case, you do not have to use the /pae parameter on a system that is configured to use hot-add memory devices. In all other cases, you must use the /pae parameter in the Boot.ini file to take advantage of memory over 4 GB.

  • If there is more than 16 GB of physical memory available on a computer, the operating system requires 2 GB of virtual address space for system purposes and therefore can support only a 2 GB user mode virtual address space. For the operating system to use the memory range above 16 GB, be sure that the /3gb parameter is not in the Boot.ini file. If it is, the operating system cannot use any physical memory above 16 GB.
The SQL Server buffer pool can fully utilize AWE mapped memory; however, only database pages can be dynamically mapped to and unmapped from SQL Server's virtual address space and take full advantage of memory allocated through AWE. AWE does not directly help supporting additional users, threads, databases, queries, and other objects that permanently reside in the virtual address space.

For a table that lists the maximum server memory values, see Memory Architecture.

Release History

14 April 2006

Changed content:
  • Corrected the list of SQL Server editions that support AWE.
  • Added the note regarding Windows Server 2003 and PAE.

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