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Why Have or Use a RAM Disk

Is a RAM Disk fast? Is it faster than a speeding bullet like Superman?

Have you installed Vista or Windows 7 on a computer?

Ever wonder why the installation is so much faster than say Windows 2000 or XP?

Two words: RAM Disk or RAM Drive .

Back in the day of DOS, a RAM Drive was used all the time. Makes loading programs lightning fast.

So if you don't know what a RAM Drive is here is the scoop: It is a drive that is configured to operate out of the computers physical memory.

That is why it is the fastest disk you can have, it is 10X or more faster than any physical drive, even a newer SSD (Solid State Drive).

Note: Some SSD manufactures have a utility that you get with the SSD that uses a RAM Drive to speed up reads and writes, it is the same type of "acceleration" that server RAID controllers use. However there is a problem with using this type of utility: You have to wait until the data in the accelerator has been written to the SSD when shutting down. RAID controllers have a back up battery system that will store the data until the next startup, your RAM Disk doesn't!

So why did the OS publishers forget about RAM Drives?

My theory is that the amount of memory in a computer from say 1987 to around 2004 was maxed out by the operating system. That is the stock off the shelf computer had just enough memory to do the job, not much left over.

Around 2002 memory prices started to fall, when a meg of memory was at around $0.8 or $0.10 a meg depending on the speed and the voltage requirements (laptops used to have more efficient memory thus higher cost of manufacture).

With the decrease in memory prices computers started having 256 Meg of memory, then 512 Meg, the 1 Gig, now the norm is 2 to 8 Gig of memory.

Windows 2000 and XP will operate on less than 100 Meg of memory but when you start adding on programs it starts getting slow because the physical memory is used up and the OS has to start swapping out idle services and processes to the hard drive in the Paging File or Swap File.

Vista and Windows 7 32 bit Operating Systems can operate efficiently and fairly fast in 1 Gig, they do better with 2 Gig, and are extremely happy with 4 Gig. The 64 bit versions are slow with 2 Gig, better with 4 Gig and the sweet spot for the 64 bit versions is 6.5 Gig (that is pretty hard to obtain by the way) so 8 Gig works just fine.

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Back in the days of DOS any time a computer had over 2 Mega Bytes (ya that much) of memory you had over 1.4 Meg of unusable memory by DOS unless you loaded special drivers to access that memory (this is for another article).

So what I used to do was make a RAM Disk with the extra memory of a Meg or more.

Once DOS was loaded and the RAM Disk was created I had a batch file that would copy all the files I wanted in to the RAM Drive.

Then I would execute the programs from the RAM Disk.

My 386 computer had 16 Meg of RAM in it, after DOS loaded with all the special drivers I had 14 or so meg of ram that was not useable by most DOS based programs (DOOM and some spread sheets could use this memory) so I made a RAM Drive and ran my games from there. Very fast! Cool ...

One problem with a RAM Drive: If you did not save the data to a physical drive when you powered down the computer it was gone! All that work lost - Done that once! I learned to save my work BEFORE I powered down the computer.

When the 486 came out and with the SIMM (Single Inline Memory Module) it was possible to have 32, 64, even 128 Meg of memory in a computer! (The draw back to anything over 32 Meg was the cost). Along with the 486 came Windows!

The first four versions of Windows could not use more than 32 Meg of RAM (they were 16 bit Operating Systems) so if you had anything over 32 Meg it was wasted, well kinda...

At one time I had Windows 3.11 loading from a RAM Drive, I had 64 Meg of RAM in my computer, it would boot from DOS and make the RAM Drive, then copy all the files to the RAM Drive then start Win 3.11. It was fast! Cool...

No not cool if it crashed you lost all your settings and any work but it was faster than any other OS I had used up to that time.

Today's Operating Systems can use a RAM Drive but be aware that the 32 bit OS can only see 3.25 Gig of physical memory. Even if you had 8 gig in the computer the OS can not see the other 4.5 or so of memory. If the OS can't see or use the memory then a RAM Drive can, unlike the old DOS where the hardware is not controlled, the newer Operating Systems do control the hardware.

With 4 GB of RAM if you make a RAM Drive it will come from the memory that the OS sees and uses. 32 Operating Systems that see 3.25 Gig and then you make a RAM Drive of say 1 Gig then the OS will have 2.25 Gig to operate in. This is fine for XP but Vista and Windows 7 will start to struggle especially if the video is using shared memory.

Back to the question: Why is the installation of Vista and especially Windows 7 faster than Windows 2000 or XP?

Because all the files are copied to a RAM Drive while the installation is being performed. The installation program copies some files to the RAM Drive then executes them, while you are reading the text and making decisions the install program copies more files to the RAM Drive. Then it does the deed.

Faster is good ... Hummm??

Next the 'How To of making and using a RAM Disk'.


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