Windows

Take a closer look at ReadyBoost features in Windows 7

ReadyBoost is a still a part of the Microsoft Windows 7 operating system, so Greg Shultz examines its features in more detail.

The other day a friend and I were talking about the merits of Windows 7, and I was trying to convince him that it was time to let go of Windows XP and move up to the latest version. During our discussion he brought up Windows Vista and ReadyBoost and then asked me if ReadyBoost was even available in Windows 7. When I told him that it was indeed still a part of the Windows 7 operating system, he questioned whether it was really necessary anymore, considering the fact that 2GB-4GB of RAM was pretty common in new PCs these days.

That got me wondering. During the Vista buildup, ReadyBoost was a pretty common topic of discussion. Back then, memory was still pretty expensive and ReadyBoost was being touted as an inexpensive way to make the new and memory-intensive operating system a little snappier. During the Windows 7 buildup, I really don't remember hearing much about ReadyBoost at all. Do you?

Even so, ReadyBoost is a still a part of the Windows 7 operating system, and as such, I thought that I would examine it in more detail in this edition of the Windows Vista and Windows 7 Report.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

How it works

Let's begin with a brief overview. As you know, ReadyBoost is designed to use external USB flash drives, SD cards, or CF cards as a hard disk cache to improve disk read performance. For example, when you insert one of these types of devices into a Windows 7 system you'll see an AutoPlay dialog box like the one shown in Figure A.

Figure A

When you insert one of these devices into a Windows 7 system, you'll see this AutoPlay dialog box.

When you select the button Speed Up My System Using Windows ReadyBoost, the operating system will begin a series of tests to determine whether the drive is compatible with ReadyBoost. To be compatible, the device must be:

  • At least 256MB in size, with at least 64KB of free space
  • At least a 2.5MB/sec throughput for 4KB random reads
  • At least a 1.75MB/sec throughput for 1MB random writes

You'll then see the ReadyBoost tab. If the device isn't compatible, you'll see a message informing you that the device doesn't have the required performance characteristics for ReadyBoost. If the device is compatible, you can select the Use This Device or the Dedicate This Device to ReadyBoost option to enable ReadyBoost and specify how much space you want to make available to the disk cache.

Since these types of memory devices are inexpensive these days, I recommend that you choose the Dedicate This Device to ReadyBoost option, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Since these types of memory devices are inexpensive these days, I recommend that you choose the Dedicate This Device to ReadyBoost option.
Once you click OK, ReadyBoost will configure the device to use the cache and immediately begin using it, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Once you click OK, ReadyBoost will configure the device to use the cache.

In order to ensure the safety, integrity, and efficiency of the ReadyBoost system, Microsoft has added several safeguards.

To begin with, the data on device is automatically encrypted using the Advanced Encryption Standard -- AES 128. Therefore, if you happen to lose the device, you won't have to worry about someone getting access to data.

While the operating system will actually work from the cache on the device, all the data in the cache is mirrored on the hard disk. Therefore, if you inadvertently remove the device while it's in use by ReadyBoost, the operating system will immediately fall back to the cache on the hard disk and pick up right where it left off.

The SuperFetch cache

The SuperFetch cache management technology in Windows 7 is designed to enhance the operating system's responsiveness when loading and switching between applications that you use most often. Using adaptive techniques, SuperFetch will constantly monitor the data and system files related to the applications that you use most often and preload them into the cache where they can be loaded into memory the fastest.

To further improve performance SuperFetch incorporates an I/O prioritization technology, in which applications are marked as either a low- or high-priority I/O application. With this system, SuperFetch will temporarily sideline a low-priority I/O application when a high-priority I/O application takes precedence. Of course, this will greatly improve the performance of those applications marked as high-priority I/O.

While the SuperFetch cache management technology works perfectly fine while running on your system's main hard disk, it usually works better when it is stored on a flash-based memory device using the ReadyBoost system. This is because a hard disk relies on physically moving components, which makes it inherently slow when compared to flash memory with its very fast, electronic data transfer system.

Does it really work in Windows 7?

OK, now that you have a pretty good idea of how the ReadyBoost system works, let's take a look at how effective it is in Windows 7 along with today's technology.

To begin with it is important to point out that if you have a high-end hard disk in a desktop system that is pushing 7200-RPM or higher, ReadyBoost won't provide as significant of a performance gain as it would if your hard disk is running 5400-RPM or lower, such as those typically found in laptops. However, even if you are on the top end of the scale, that doesn't mean that you should write off ReadyBoost.

Once ReadyBoost is enabled, it doesn't just take over. Rather, it essentially keeps tabs on hard disk operations and will only go into action reading and delivering files from its cache when doing so will boost performance. Otherwise, it defers to the cache on your hard disk. More specifically, during sequential read operations, a hard disk will outperform a flash-based drive; during nonsequential read operations, a flash-based drive, and subsequently ReadyBoost, will outperform a hard disk.

It's also important to understand that recognizing the performance gain provided by using ReadyBoost is pretty subjective and will depend on what kind of applications you run on your computer and what type of data you typically work with.

I'll follow up on this performance issue in next week's blog, so stay tuned.

Other notable enhancements

Windows 7 ReadyBoost can employ multiple devices. In fact, Windows 7's ReadyBoost can support up to eight devices for a maximum 256GB of cache memory.

What's your take?

Have you used ReadyBoost? If so, do you feel like it boosts overall performance? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

43 comments
PDSF
PDSF

I today realized I could try ReadyBoost on my Acer Revo 3700 HTPC with Win7 64 and only 2GB RAM. I basically only use it for streaming video through my TV and for playing iTunes. The latter opens very slowly due to my large mp3 collection. I had a 2GB SD card lying around, and I never touch the SD slot on this computer so I figured why not. I tried loading iTunes from scratch three times before and after inserting the card. iTunes loading times before RB: 50, 23, 31 sec After RB: 22, 12, 12 sec I am convinced! Also, the boot time was reduced from 1:30 to 1:15. Still slow but every bit helps.

Realvdude
Realvdude

I just found the specs on a 1Gb Sandisk Ultra II SD card I have as a backup in my camera bag. The read/write specs are great, so I wondered if it would help my wife's celeron laptop as a Readyboost device. Given Geg's thorough explaination, I'm going to give it a try. The first performance boost this laptop got was a infusion of memory from 512Mb to 2Gb, for a cost of $20. The next boost was moving from Vista Basic to Win7 Home Premium for a cost of $50 (3 upgrades $150). Really not bad for a 6 year old laptop. If the Readyboost helps, it will be the first free upgrade for this computer.

rgeiken
rgeiken

I have Windows 7 Home Premium on my ASUS Netbook that I installed a 2 gig ram in. I can notice the effect of the 2 gig of ready boost on the performance of this configuration. The Netbook originally came with 1 gig of ram and Window 7 Starter Edition. For me that is way too underpowered to do anything. Wish they would offer 3 gig of ram. It is a 32 bit version of Windows 7. I also have a ready boost with my Lenovo with 8 gig of ram and a 8 core i7860 processor. Don't notice much effect with that configuration. If you can see the small LED that some of these have installed in the thumb drive, you can see that it is working. Worth trying out to see if you are benefiting

steve.clark
steve.clark

I "felt" like I was actually getting poorer performance. I'm running 7200 RPM drive, only 2GB RAM. It "seemed" like a lot of disk activity to move things out to the flash drive (slowed down disk performance), and no real use of the flash drive for reads. I'm guessing this is more applicable to specific workloads - not the general user?

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

If I could retrofit it to W2K/XP. :)

deICERAY
deICERAY

Seems needless when 7 will support (HOW MUCH?) loads of RAM anyway; I have used 7 since its official release and never noticed that choice, because I'm not looking for it! BESIDES, it's MUCH better to have a system that reliably crashes every single night since its installation than to have an old, over-patched, fairly reliable XP system that ran for days before crashing. I suppose getting the crashes more consistent was a goal of MS, and they succeeded. I also LOVE the hidden features, like "FILE/SELECT ALL"... and I'm sure I don't need all the other old useful features of XP; besides, it's a dead relative according to MS anyway, so I'm sure I'll eventually get used to my Windows Explorer shooting my clicked selections to the bottom of the window where I CAN'T READ THEM, and other wonderful 'improvements'.

Craig_B
Craig_B

I have done some basic testing with ReadyBoost and found that it didn't really gain me anything. Maybe on some older low end equipment you would see something but on a decent machine (Dell 390) you may not see any improvement.

Gigabytez69
Gigabytez69

"More specifically, during sequential read operations, a hard disk will outperform a flash-based drive; during non-sequential read operations a flash-based drive, and subsequently ReadyBoost, will outperform a hard disk" What is the difference between sequential and non sequential read operations, if your hadisk is defragmented regularily it should be sequential right?

gadzooks64
gadzooks64

I have installed SD cards dedicated to ReadyBoost on all of my machines: desktop, 3 laptops and a netbook. I have noticed that pages do load faster with it.

kosimov
kosimov

Good article, Greg. I haven't been using ReadyBoost on my new laptop, but you've convinced me to give it a try. Thanks, Larry Holmes

Daniel Breslauer
Daniel Breslauer

All of my systems have at least 2 GB RAM and 5400 RPM HDs. Haven't ever really felt the need to use this feature. I could give it a try once, but since I only work with laptops, it could just bother me. On the other hand, I do have a couple of unemployed SD cards, and all laptops have readers for these (which I never use - I generally use my phone as a camera and use bluetooth or USB to hook it up), I might actually give it a try.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Are you using ReadyBoost in your Windows 7 systems? What benefits have you seen?

HarryG
HarryG

Windows 7 apparently still uses Virtual Memory - "an area on the hard disk that Windows uses as if it were RAM." If you use the ReadyBoost feature, is the storage on the stick/card used instead of the Virtual Memory area on the hard disk? This would likely improve performance. A related question - is it still recommended to have a paging file, even if the system is loaded with multi-GB RAM? In the past, it was always recommended to NOT disable the paging file. Is this still true in Win7?

dony_z
dony_z

I run two desktops and one laptop, all Win7 64. Laptop has 6GB DDR2 with T9400 processor, one desktop has 4GB DDR3 with i5 (750) processor, both of these have 7200 rpm HD (two each) and ReadyBoost does nothing for them. HOWEVER, the other desktop is older and has 2 GB ram and a single core processor with two 5400 rpm HD. The improvement is very visible and when the flash drive was accidentally removed I thought the unit had a virus or was otherwise losing function. Point is ReadyBoost benefit is machine specific so if in doubt and with an older computer you may gain a year of acceptable operation at little cost. BTW I have been running XP, then Vista and now Win7 since each came out. I do moderate system maintenance and have never had any problems with any of them. Sorry to hear others don't share my experiences. Last blue screen of death was likely more than ten years ago and two iterations prior to XP. Never had a virus or any of the other problems I hear about and we are all heavy users, download just about everything we see and play games daily.

jfuller05
jfuller05

the feature worked, I used it in Vista, but it wasn't a substantial difference like really adding physical RAM sticks in the motherboard.

halversondm
halversondm

Greg, (or anyone really) Since you can use different types of media, SD, CF, USB, etc, is there a hardware advantage to using one over the other. For a laptop with a built in card reader, I'd definitely use SD or CF since it wouldn't stick out like a USB drive. Desktop, probably opposite.

andrejakostic
andrejakostic

Well, it's not related to fragmentation at all. Sometimes it just happens that program needs access to files that are far away on the hard disk. Sure advanced defragmentation software can help by analyzing the most used files and moving them close together, but at one point you will need files which are on opposite ends of hard disk. It's just the way HDDs are designed. Here's the example of sequential read: You have a defragmented uncompressed video file on a hard disk. It's likely going to be large, but because it's made of one fragment the read operation will be sequential so even though it's big it will be read quickly. On the other hand imagine you are compressing say a 10000 small text files. Even if they are made of one fragment each, there is no guarantee that they will be close together on the hard disk so your compression utility will have to wait for hard disk to fine each of the files before it can process it.

bobstar001
bobstar001

I tried using a 4 GB flash drive dedicated to Readyboost, just after I installed Win7. I could not tell the difference in performance when the drive came loose from the USB port and quit working. My desktop has two older Raptors in Raid 0 and 4 Gb of 1066 DDR2. I am currently not using Readyboost.

allen
allen

My netbook has only 2GB ram, I added an 8GB SD card just for this feature, it this does make a difference!

mjack85
mjack85

ReadyBoost is a supplimentary memory action by using its own cache of common tasks that are copies of what your HD would have had to handle and now has it done faster and immeadiately so the system can get directly to work without collecting the tools or programs because there already set up to go. Your mirror copy of the systems own information is safely in place ready.

raypsi
raypsi

Now I gets a Asus netbook with windows 7 starter I finally remember about readyboost So I google readyboost and can't find anything good about it, all I see is buy more ram. So without the boost ima trying to shread a movie with a 6 pass shread. 700meg file is taking 10 minutes and more because I gave up trying after that point. It froze the heck out of the OS. I tried it about 4 times after rebooting each time. Almost an hour blown away. Finally I got a 4gig flash drive and set it for 1gig in readyboost. Put the movie in the shreader and bam in 2 minutes it was done. And the program didn't freeze the OS. I looked at Taskman with 1gig of ram before and after. Before my bloatware took 800meg of ram, cached ram was like 398meg available was like 317meg and free ram was 87meg after with readyboost running I now gits 547meg of ram cached ram at 278meg available ram at 466meg and free ram at 198meg before IE 8.0 would take about 5 seconds to load about:blank after IE 8.0 loads about:blank in a fraction of a second. It works for me.

jvp@CTFolk.com
jvp@CTFolk.com

I was hoping the article would indicate how to determine how large a capacity would be effective for the ReadyBoost drive given various factors. One commenter is using 12GB in ReadyBoost--how much of that is probably excessive? It would also help to know CF vs. USB since CF is less likely to get pulled out of its socket than USB, esp. on a laptop. Finally, it would be great to know the performance advantage for a 1GB netbook by upgrading it to Win 7 with, say, 4GB ReadyBoost--whether that alone would justify the hassle and cost of the XP-7 upgrade.

DNSB
DNSB

I've tried ReadyBoost on a desktop and a couple of laptops. The desktop (8GB RAM, 1TB system drive) showed no real performance increase from ReadyBoost. One laptop with 1GB RAM and a 5400 RPM 320GB HD showed a noticeable performance increase while the other laptop with 2GB RAM and a 7200 RPM 250GB hard drive matched the desktop in showing no real performance increase. The desktop is x64 with a "high speed" USB flash drive while the laptops are x86 and used an SDHC flash card. As usual, my results were for my application mix. YMMV.

jfuller05
jfuller05

as part of a test lab in the Vista class I took in college. Worked great.

sfisher
sfisher

I've been using the ReadyBoost feature since it came available in Vista. My desktop computer was originally a Vista 64-bit system with 12GB RAM. You wouldn't think it would be beneficial, but it was. As memory-hogging as Vista is, my computer never crashed once I added the 4GB ReadyBoost drive. It did before that. Now I've upgraded to Win7 Pro 64-bit and it's even nicer to work with. I also use this feature on my laptops, two with Vista, one with 7, all 32-bit so they max out at 4GB RAM internally. The added memory really makes a difference. I didn't actually notice it until I removed the flash drive from one of them and it almost felt like it was hanging when opening docs/webpages, printing, etc. Definitely worth trying for as cheap as flash drives are nowadays!

Researcher75
Researcher75

I have a 1.5 TB Hard Drive - ReadyBoost does not work with it - should it???

Sheldont
Sheldont

I figured I would give it a try way before The article was written. I put a 4 Gb Thumb drive inside and it has greatly improved the overall performance of my PC. It is one of the better things I have found in Windows 7. I have 7 on one of my PC's and I have been running it for a few months. And I still don't like it.

Rhodent
Rhodent

ReadyBoost is for speeding up disk reads, not for virtual memory. You can use you performance monitor to see which percentage of your pagefile is used, and determine how big a file you need, but I'm pretty sure you must have one!

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

If I Remember Correctly: ReadyBoost is used to 'stash a cache' of oft read/seldom written data. Flash mem should be OK for this, and take a while to use up its 100K writes. I would like to get some kind of 'board' which could take 8 or more 1GB sticks of DDR DIMM. This would make a small (blindingly fast and non-wearing) 'SSD'. :)

pcrx_greg
pcrx_greg

I have used ready-boost in my laptop since Vista and find that it does improve performance. I would imagine that with the SSD Hard drive becoming more popular, that ready boost would become obsolete rather quickly. I/O on SSD drives would be as fast or faster than I/Os on flash drives.

deICERAY
deICERAY

No problems? No BSOD? You are truly blessed. As soon as MS announced Vista my XP started with the blue screens. Not too often at first, but slowly increased. I do download and test a lot of software as well. I remember how excited I was about Windows for Workgroups! That was the last time I got excited about MS's OSs! I've suffered all the problems of viruses, trojans, zombies, etc. Beaten them all down with various software sticks, but no way can I say it's been a easy voyage! Count your blessings and keep the software protection updated!

wmmahjoub
wmmahjoub

i have laptop toshiba due 2 core 2.2 ghz has 4GB ram,it shows installed 4.0 GB ram,3.0 GB ram usable,why and if i used external sd ram as 2,or 4 or 8 GB ram is it better to raise its performance as iam using alote of softwares for multimedia editting ?any one can help me to process using the whole 4GB installed physical rams?

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

With Vista it helped with graphic rendering in the background, while doing other stuff on the front end. WIth Win7 64 4GB RAM< I played with it once or twwice but it's quick enough as is so I don't bother anymore. As for media types, I found no difference between an SD card and a decent flash drive, note tha cheaper ones aren't Ready Boost compatible, their read and write speeds just aren't fast enough. You can still opt to use it anyway, but it makes no difference. Don't confuse Ready Boost with adding mroe RAM though, it is just a caching speed increase and thus the drive speed, not so much the size, determines the noticable different. I am thinking of trying it out again on Win 7 with the newer, high speed SDE card, it might be noticeable but I don't expect much now, again Win7 with 4GB runs like a top for me under some pretty intensive loads.

fiosdave
fiosdave

I have been using 8GB SDHC's since Vista and find it does offer a performance boost, however, is there a maximum amount of memory that you can use, and is there an obvious point of diminishing return?

NickHurley
NickHurley

12GB of RAM and crashes? is that what I am to imply from your statement? sounds like you could have saved some money and went for 4GB instead if your system needs ReadyBoost so much.

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

Pagefile is likely to be re-written many times in a session, using up flash's 100K writes too quickly. Used as cache, maybe not so fast to wear out.

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

That's the product on Amazon. At $370US, and the same specs as Hyperdrive 5, I need to consider _it_. Another noteworthy feature of both Hyper~ and ACARD is a slot to take CF or such. This can allow backup in case of power failure. Please note: Neither mfr suggests these for extended storage of _critical_ data. I used ramdisks in expanded memory in the days BW (Before Windows), and I know how to take advantage of such devices. Thanks again.

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

Thanks for the heads-ups. e-Bay has some shops selling the old PCI types for ~$150US or less. Amazon has a seller for another brand that goes in a 5.25 drive bay (more desirable). And I was reminded that HyperOS has the Hyperdrive (which used to be _way_ too expensive). Hyperdrive 5 is still expensive, and goes in a bay also. Has 8 slots, each taking a DIMM of up to 8 GB. Hyperdrive 5M has 6 slots for the same DIMMs, and at $300US is less than 3/4 the price of the big model. FWIW: These use the SATA2 bus, and have a power adapter for NVR. Still rich for _my_ blood, tho' I need to think seriously about getting the 5M, and buying RAM sticks as I can afford to. If I was a hardware guru, I might be able to figure a way to adapt the PCI cards to Firewire 800. :)

DNSB
DNSB

We've used a Gigabyte GC-RAMDisk card with 4GB of DDR ram and works rather well with Adobe's apps as a speed up. Disadvantages is the memory is DDR 1 which is getting harder to find cheap and the card is a full height PCI bus card which doesn't fit most of our newer systems. They also have the unit packaged with a SATA 1 interface but haven't looked at that unit.

andrejakostic
andrejakostic

Gigabyte has been experimenting with such devices for some time. There are for example i-RAM BOX and GC-RAMDISK which are connected to computer via SATA interface. They take 4x1GiB of DDR1 RAM and have a battery so data won't be immediately lost once the computer is shut down. Unfortunately, their capacity is small.

andrejakostic
andrejakostic

3.0 usable ram shows when you use 32bit OS. Who makes external SDRAM in such large amounts? Did you maybe mean secure digital memory card? If you did, then it wouldn't actually work as if ti were RAM. Basically Windows loads often used files into the card and uses them instead of the copies on HDD because flash memory is faster in some cases.

jfuller05
jfuller05

It's because you are using a 32bit operating system and because some of that memory is used for various hardware, the addressable RAM under Win XP SP2 (and 32 bit Vista) ends up having a practical limit of 3-3.5GB, depending on your hardware.