RAM storage, RAM Disk, RAM Drive - but I use SSD? should I?
That was the question I got from a customer a week or so ago.
I do use one myself, but can I advice a customer to use one? I thought about it while doing my work at the premise and before I left I went by his office and said
“I can see no point in using RAM storage as there is only one area where you can benefit from it and even that area has faults”.
While I am certain my answer is spot on and 100% correct for this customer, it will differ depending on who I talk to.
The reason is that the answer to such a question comes as no clear affirmative Yes or No, it simply can not be given without a lengthy explanation ending both conclusive and non-conclusive at the same time. It is no contradiction in this respect, as the answer to it must based on the user asking and the intended usage.
As I am hinting towards above, this is a very advanced question technically speaking. What springs to mind immediately is one do and one don’t
It may be a good idea… for temporary files… I would not recommend using RAM storage aka “RAM drive” aka “RAM disk” for anything else as the consequences from a loss of power simply can be too much to bear.
A thing of the past that can depart to silicon heaven shortly
Ram storage technology dates back to the 80s for the home computing market and I have been using it ever since. Implemented out of the box for Commodore Amiga, the Windows 9x boot diskettes used RAM storage (for erd.cab), Windows 2000 featured the ability to enable using RAM storage from within the OS. Then with XP, the technology became 3rd-party for reasons unknown. Today it is third-party for good reasons as programs implement comparable technology through OS specific API’s by using caching, more on that later.
Even today, looking at the speed difference isolated, a pure volatile RAM based drive is about 10 times quicker than the best SSD storage and so there is some performance boost to be gained from using it, if used wisely.
With the introduction of the new volatile RAM-based SSD storage and battery backup a few years ago, offering RAM performance and handle write-intensive tasks not possible with today’s technology, a change is coming. When this technology hits the home market, RAM storage is finally destined to become a thing of the past for general use after some 30 years of service. The security aspect will make sure it will exist way after that of course.
RAM storage a troubled technology
As I mention, I use this technology for temporary files myself which is solely because of the security features that comes from the very nature of the technology. Let me take you on a short trip down the subjects pros and cons
Internet Cache and Temp folders weight in equal amounts of pros and cons as they do not contain anything important, just a temporary location where applications can save log files, installation files, webpages and other not important data. Data from installations meant to survive a reboot, likewise should not be kept and executed from the temporary folders upon next boot according to best practises.The challenge is that some, especially older, installers do depend on the %TEMP% directory and so you could run into trouble because of it. Even MSI installation packages are known to have faultered in the past.Because of this, given I was to set up a new computer, I would not switch location until I got all programs installed.
A more recent aspect in the challenge of using a RAM storage comes from a handfull of modern apps from MS not following their own rules and best practices (When was MS actually compatible with MS ) I do not know how this is in Windows 10 as I so far have not used the Universal apps on a general basis.
Once aware aware of the above it is possible to switch back and forth between physical and RAM storage as it is not too much work.
With IT Security in mind, no negative aspect can be found, the temporary data should be cleared on a regular-basis and using RAM storage means there will be no human error.
Technically speaking, a RAM based Temp drive helps in reducing the overall diskaccess and as such extend the life of your SSD, but the question remains, how much? A recent quality SSD is quite fit for the task of handling read and writes with no noticeable speed reduction.
I will leave the above arguments there, and assume you would want to set up RAM storage.
RAM | RAM storage size
4 GB | 0MB -> 512MB
8 GB | 0GB -> 4GB
16 GB | 0GB -> 8GB
In my view you will have to have an absolute minimum of 4GB of memory installed for any post XP installation (I strongly recommend 8GB) to make practical use of RAM storage. Above you can see my table for amount of installed RAM and recommended RAM storage size, but apart from the first entry (the kind some laugh at - which happens to be the only serious in the table), the other entries are meant as a joke with a nod towards the more hysterious claims I have read on the net. It is time to wake up!
There are no logical reasons why you would want large RAM storage
What we must take into consideration is that newer operating systems and programs from recent years have a more efficient use of ram than older operating system like Windows XP in that they use the RAM excessively when it is available by caching programs and so on. This ‘cache’-ram is flushed immediately should it be needed for other use and to no ill effect.
It does not take longer to launch a program into such ‘used’ RAM than it takes to launch it into ‘free’ RAM. If on the other hand, the program is cached when you launch it, the startup will be blazingly fast and so it is not generally a bad thing if you see a program use much RAM today. The same is true if you notice 80% of the total ram is used…
In this respect one could argue that the positive aspects of RAM storage has been adopted and implemented in a dynamic way by being used without excluding memory from use by OS or programs.
I know, we were all concerned about such a situation back in the NT,9x,2k,XP days and for good reasons, I may add.
Today however, what you are “concerned” about is in reality by design to make your PC run faster and to utilize available resources way more effectively than XP ever did.
Next time you see explorer.exe, web browser, whatever use half-a-gig!?! of RAM, consider this; is it slower? is something apparently wrong? If not, why fix it?
Go for a cup of coffe, continue whatever it is you are doing and rejoice in the fact that it is all there in the name of using the resources available and speed things up, hopefully giving you a better experience in the process.
In light of the above, the following is very important… Installing RAM storage software and configure it to use 50% of your memory is in reality, exactly the same as removing half of your memory from their slot(s) as they will not be available able for use by the operating system at all. RAM storage is insecure even as a short term storage medium and, if configured to large, makes sure your system will not run at the maximum of its potential.
Configure your RAM storage as needed, no more! My RAM storage is set at 1GB. This is, for me, totally overkill for the most part, right now I am using 92MB. You will have to do some testing to find what your best setting is. If you get past 2GB, I will advice you to check into the cause of it. It may just be down to what programs you use, but it should be checked as it is much.
There is of course, the possibillity to move the pagefile as well, but as I see it, a possibillity better suited if you have a hard disk. With a SSD you are better off with more available memory for caching.
Good, with the theoretical part left behind…
There are many offers for RAM storage software out there and I will not discuss differences apart from noting that you must not be misled by the ability to save the contents of the RAM storage to disk offered by some programs.
This is in no way any guarantee for your installations to continue after reboot. It all comes down to what happens first during startup, the installation or the restore of RAM storage…
Furthermore, some commercial solutions comes with a ridiculous price tag so you may want to check out freeware alternatives like LTRData’s ImDisk Toolkit or for the more advanced, ImDisk Virtual Disk Driver - http://www.ltr-data.se/opencode.html in the process.
Search the net find your preferred product, download/buy and install it
(on a side note, remove any USB or otherwise temporary storage devices with a drive letter assigned prior to installing and configure your RAM storage to make sure you do not get holes in the drive letter chain for drives considered internal. It may cause trouble with removable storage not getting a drive letter assigned later on. Not generally a big issue, still it is better to do it right once than having to fix annoyances every other week later).
Once RAM storage is configured and up and running, it is time to do some editing to move the temporary paths to RAM storage.
Now here is this 90s retro when-are-they-going-to-udate-it Microsoft way:
Open the Control Panes, (change ‘view by’ from ‘Category’ to ‘Small Icons’ if needed) Click on System and when the window comes up, choose Advanced system settings, click the Advanced tab and finally click Environment variables.
The two white list boxes both contain 2 values listed for temp and tmp - All 4 entries must be changed. If you look right above the two white parts, you will notice that the top one lists variables for the current user and the one on the bottom where you have to scroll down to find the two settings, handles system variables. By default, the paths to %TEMP% and %TMP% are the same (Current user: %USERPROFILE%\AppData\Local\Temp | System: C:\WINDOWS\TEMP)
Select one of them, choose Edit and correct the path to point to your RAM disk.
Since there is not " Browse" button available, please make sure you type the correct drive letter and path for your RAM storage i.e (E: emp where E is the drive letter)
Now repeat the process for the three remaining entries and you are done. Restart the PC and check that your RAM storage have at least a few files present
Now, if you want to change the internet cache as well, look it up for your browser… I have no Cache at all and always take it from the server (Only the current page is cached, naturally)
[B]Based on the above, I think I am safe in saying that you are wrong to both the Yes-camp and the No-camp of the subject.
For the rest of you, I hope I have managed to demystify what occurs to me as ‘the great unknown’ for the casual computer user.[/B]