Whether you have a hard drive or an SSD, your computer’s RAM is its fastest storage medium by a wide margin. If you have more than 4GB of memory, you can turn this speed to your advantage, turning some of it into a small RAM Disk. This disk will appear to Windows as a fully-functional storage drive that’s ready to hold your most frequently-used applications and launch them as much as twice as fast.
Fortunately, if your computer takes DDR3 RAM — the standard type for more then 4 years — upgrading will be very inexpensive. An 8GB DDR3 kit (2 x 4GB) for notebooks costs less than $40 these days, but RAM that follows the older DDR2 standard is more expensive. If you don’t know which kind of RAM your computer needs, use an online memory finder tool to find out.
Though both of these settings make it easy to keep the image file in sync with the content, they can also slow your computer down. When we tried creating a 4GB RAM Disk on a notebook with a 7,200-rpm hard drive, the computer took several minutes to shut down, because it was saving the 4GB file. However, when we switched the hard drive for an SSD, the same notebook took a more reasonable 54 seconds to shut down. So experiment on your system before deciding.
Fortunately, if you use your RAM disk to hold applications, you don’t need to resave the image file on a regular basis. When you install or update an application, you can manually save the image file by hitting the Save Image Now button under the Load and Save tab in the RamDisk configuration utility.
Your RAM disk will now be ready for you to install software on it. Make sure that, when installing programs you want to live on the disk, you select its drive letter rather than C:. You may also want to create a Program Files directory on the RAM disk to keep things organized.
To find out just how much speed benefit you get from a RAM Disk, we created a 4GB disk on an Ivy Bridge-powered Windows 7 notebook with a 750GB 7,20- rpm hard drive and 8GB of RAM. When we ran CrystalDiskMark, a synthetic benchmark that measures raw transfer rates, the speed difference was dramatic. Sequential read speeds were about 50x faster on the RAM Disk while writes were a whopping 70x faster, going from 109.3 MBps to 7,760 MBps. Even when compared to a speedy Kingston HyperX SH100S3 SSD, the RAM disk read 11 or 12x faster and wrote about 20x faster.
In real life, these speedy transfer speeds result in much faster application opens. To see the difference, we loaded four popular applications — Adobe Reader, Excel 2010, Photoshop CS 5.1 and Word 2010 — onto the hard drive, timed their open times and then installed them on the RAM Disk instead. We then applied the same tests, using a speedy Kingston HyperX SH100S3 SSD instead of a hard drive in the same notebook.
Because most applications leave at least some of their files in a variety of folders on the C drive by default (ex: C:\Program Files\Common Files) none of these applications loaded completely from memory, even after we installed them to the RAM Disk. Because part of the software, at least in our tests, remained on the storage drive, pairing the RAMDisk with an SSD proved the fastest option. However, even with the hard drive, the difference in launch times with the RAM disk was dramatic.
If you use applications that don’t write to any folder but C:\Program Files or if you’re able to move the entirety of your C:\Program Files\Common Files folder and your C:\Users folder over to the RAM Disk, you’ll achieve maximum performance with any storage drive as everything will load from RAM. However, on a typical PC the Users and Common folders are so huge that you’d need a lot more than 4GB of available RAM Disk space to house them.
As you can see in the chart, using the RAM Disk with the hard drive cut load times in half. However, the SSD alone was noticeably faster than the HDD + RAM Disk combo in some cases, particularly when loading the heavy Photoshop CS 5.1 application. Considering that buying additional RAM is a lot cheaper than upgrading to SSD, many users may find the RAM Disk a cheaper option.
If you can possibly afford it, the combination of SSD with RAM Disk is simply unbeatable. With the two together, we were able to load Word 2010 in a mere .4 seconds, Photoshop with a giant TIF in just 4.8 seconds and Excel with a huge spreadsheet in just 1.9 seconds.
|Application||HDD Only (sec)||HDD / RAM Disk (sec)||SSD Only (sec)||SSD w/ RAM Disk (sec)|
|Adobe Reader 10 (opening to large PDF)||7||3.6||3.5||3.1|
|Excel 2010 (opening to large spreadsheet)||10||4.1||3.7||1.9|
|Photoshop CS 5.1 (opening to 400MB TIF)||22.1||9.7||5.5||4.8|