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The Myth of ReadyBoost



Warnerc2Once upon a time in age of computers and in the land of Microsoft a great saying was known to one and all. To increase performance add RAM. This was known and this was done even though at times this was expensive.

And then a whisper began among the wizards of Microsoft that beckoned one and all with a new promise. This whisper grew increasingly louder with the advent of Vista and eventually that whisper grew into a clarion call. The dawning of Vista was near and this new magic offered a mythical promise of increased performance, at lower cost. This promise was called ReadyBoost. Using the secret services of Superfetch, ReadyBoost promised increased performance by adding non-volatile RAM, serving as an additional memory cache. The mobile multitudes were grateful. Visions of cheap flash memory replaced expensive RAM chips. Crowds cheered. Bands played. Holidays were declared. Blog posts proliferated throughout the kingdom. And all was good. The wizards at Microsoft smiled.

And then slowly far on the horizon clouds began to gather and the vista became murky. Mobile users began to sense that crucial actions like returning from Sleep Mode were taking longer. The clouds got darker and more foreboding, illuminated from below with an ever blinking light signaling increased disk activity in an eerie, piercing, and quickening glow.

Speculation centered at first on the hardware and the flash drives. The search for the perfect and fastest ReadyBoost companion was on. Some found success. Others less so.

And then speculation turned to the mystical marriage of Superfetch and ReadyBoost as the core of the rising storm. The longer a mobile user operated with ReadyBoost, the more Superfetch settled in. With each instance of sleep or shut down, the more Vista recognized what was to be swapped to the ReadyBoost cache. And eventually, the great benefits and great promise of ReadyBoost magic were replaced by a sluggishness that left mobile users wringing their hands in despair as the throbbing lights of disk activity became more and more maddening.

One by one mobile users began discarding their flash memory and turning away from ReadyBoost. One by one, they noticed that their systems booted up more quickly, returned from sleep with less trauma, and gradually the word spread. ReadyBoost may indeed offer potential for some, but it was not the mythical magic for all that it was heralded to be.

That’s the myth and here’s the reality that I have experienced. To be clear, these are my “one man’s experiences” and I’m not saying others don’t see the benefits that ReadyBoost promises. I’m not an “under the hood” kind of guy and my experiences and testing are more anecdotal than scientific.

After installing Vista Ultimate I inserted high performance SD cards in both my Lenovo Thinkpad X60 Tablet PC and Asus R2H UMPC. Initially it did offer a performance boost, especially on the R2H, which has a slower processor (Celeron) and a slower hard drive (4200 RPM.) But as I used each system more and more, I began to notice that returning from sleep and rebooting became longer and longer with more and more disk activity happening with each occurrence. After doing some research I decided to remove the SD cards and I noticed an immediate lessening of this disk activity in these instances.

Not satisfied, I reinserted the cards in both devices and began to work again. Initially after this reinsertion things seemed ok. Then gradually, after a few days, I began to see the same issues creep back. After more than a week of operating, returning from sleep in either device brought about the same increasing slow down in performance. At first I thought this was counter-intuitive, but in thinking about further, it made perfect sense. Vista’s Superfetch, was slowly adjusting itself to how I worked and what programs I accessed more frequently and with each instance of going into sleep it was swapping things around as it was designed to do. Again, after removing the SD cards, things returned to what I consider a much more normal state without an abundance of disk thrashing.

Again, this is anecdotal and not scientific, but I have reproduced it on both machines. Mileage, I’m sure will vary, but others have followed the same path and seen similar results. My conclusion? ReadyBoost does offer promise. But it is an unfulfilled one at the moment for mobile users and still needs work and certainly needs more understanding.

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