There are certain applications that do an unusual amount of reading and writing data. Under normal operating circumstances, these applications work fine. But what happens when those disk-intensive applications start competing with other applications? When this happens, a serious slowdown can occur. You can prevent those slowdowns with the help of RAM disks.
A RAM disk is basically a special partition of your PC's memory that has been formatted and configured (via a special application) to be used as a high-speed target for data reading and writing. These RAM drives are significantly faster than traditional storage, so those applications will see a noticeable boost. Let's take a look at the process of creating a RAM drive in Windows for this purpose.This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.
Step 1: Download and install the necessary application
One of the best applications that I have found for this task is Dataram's RAMDisk. You can download a free version that will give you up to a 4GB RAM drive. If you need more than 4GB, you can purchase the registration license for only $9.95. I would recommend trying the free version first to make sure the tool will suit your needs.
Once you have downloaded the file, go ahead and install it. The installation is as simple as any other Windows install. After you have the application installed, you are ready to start creating your RAM disk.
Step 2: Configure the RAM diskTo start the configuration tool, click: Start | Dataram RAMDisk | RAMDisk Configuration Utility. When you start this tool, a small window will open (Figure A) where you take care of all the RAM disk configurations.
The maximum size of your RAM disk will depend on how much spare RAM your computer has (you will want to have plenty of extra RAM) and whether or not you have purchased a license.
Enter the size you want, check the type of partition you want to use, and then click Start. You will be prompted to install the device software in order for this to work. The installation of the drivers is part of the RAMDisk start-up.Note: There are a few reasons why a RAM disk will fail to start. First and foremost is that you need to have administrative privileges for this to work. If you have admin privileges and the RAM disk still fails, lower the size of the RAM disk and try again.
When the RAM disk has been initialized, it will show up in Windows Explorer as a regular disk (in my case it is showing up as Local Disk I).
Stay on top of the latest Microsoft Windows tips and tricks with TechRepublic's Windows Desktop newsletter, delivered every Monday and Thursday. Automatically sign up today!
Now, it is very important to understand that, by nature, RAM disks use volatile storage. In other words, when you stop that RAM disk (by either manually stopping it in the RAMDisk utility or by rebooting the computer) all the contents of that RAM disk will be lost.
Fortunately, Dataram has thought of this and gives you another option in the configuration. If you look at the Load and Save tab, you will see that you can set the RAM disk up so that it will load at start-up. You will also want to consider the box marked as Save Disk Image on Shutdown. If you know you do not want to lose the data on the RAM disk, you MUST check at least this latter option. You can also set it up to autosave an image of the RAM disk if the data you are writing to the RAM disk is crucial and you want to ensure it is saved.
Step 3: Use the RAM disk
One of the easiest ways to use the RAM disk is for temporary Internet files. You can move the temporary folder for Internet Explorer over to your RAM disk, which will do two things: First, it will speed up Web browsing, and second (if you set the RAM disk to not save the image) it will lose all browsing history every time the machine is rebooted. So you get a speed increase and an increase in security.To do this, open Internet Explorer and then click Tools | Internet Options | General. In the Browsing History section, click Settings. In this new window (Figure B), you will need to make sure the size of the disk space to use is less than the size of the RAM disk you intend on using.
By default your temporary IE storage folder will be on C. You need to redirect this to the RAM disk.
After configuring the size, click on the Move Folder button and then relocate the folder to your RAM disk. Click OK when you are done with this task.
Another great use for RAM disks is for application building. If you are a programmer and want to try to cut down build times, try moving your build folders to a RAM disk and build from within. You will find your build times can be cut by approximately 25 percent. Although this may not sound like a terribly huge time advantage, if you constantly have to rebuild (during testing phases or the like), that 25 percent is going to mean a lot at the end of the day.
RAM disks are very handy tools for those trying to squeeze out as much performance and/or security as they can from their PCs. Give RAM disks a try and see if you can manage to increase your PC's or application's performance. If you have found an interesting (or helpful) use for RAM disks, share your experience with your fellow TechRepublic users.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.