If you are an HDD user, then you must have been told to upgrade to an SSD for faster storage. However, did you know that there is even faster storage memory than SSD, and you already have access to it?
The RAM inside your PC is much faster than SSD, and by fast I mean over 50 times faster. A good SSD offers read/write speed of 250-500 MB/s. On the other hand, it isn’t a big problem for a good RAM to offer 20000-30000 MB/s read/write speed.
Now just think if you could store data in your PC’s RAM, won’t that help process data at lightning fast speed? Of course, it will, but it comes with its own caveats. Today I will tell you all about a RAM drive (aka RAM disk) and the process of creating it on your computer.
What is RAM drive?
RAM drive is basically a virtual drive just like other drives in your system, but it stores data in the PC RAM instead of the default storage (HDD/SSD). With it, you can easily install programs or move data inside it just like other drives, but it will be stored in the lightning fast RAM. You will need help from a third-party RAM drive creator software to create the virtual RAM drive.
What’s the catch?
I am sure the above explanation is too good to be true, well it is; and here’s the catch:
- RAM is a volatile memory and it cannot save data without a constant power source. So as long as your PC is on, the data inside the RAM drive is there for you to use. As soon as the power goes out or you shut down the PC, poof! All the data inside the RAM drive is gone without any traces.
- On top of this, RAM is usually very limited in PCs, 8-16 GB on average. So you can hardly create a RAM drive of 4-8 GBs as you need to leave at least half of the RAM for the system to use.
- RAM is expensive, it is not a wise decision to buy more RAM if you want to create a larger RAM drive.
Precautions for using RAM Drive
If you are still willing to create a RAM drive, then here are some requirements as well as precautions for usage it:
- The program or files you want to move to the RAM drive must not be important. The data inside the drive is always at high risk of getting deleted due to a system crash or power failure.
- As RAM drives are small in size, you can only add smaller programs. You should not plan on installing heavy games in a RAM drive.
- You should use a RAM drive creator that backs up all the RAM drive data to your default storage when you shutdown the PC. This will at least let you shutdown the PC from time to time instead of keeping it in sleep mode all the time. Of course, this will also increase the total shutdown and start time of the PC as all the data is loaded.
- Only use RAM drive on a laptop with proper battery backup or a desktop PC with a secondary power source, like a UPS.
How much speed boost you may actually get?
Now the question remains, how much of a speed boost you may see while using a program/file from a RAM drive? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as pleasing as you may expect. However, to understand the speed you may gain, you must need to understand how programs/files normally work when loaded from a regular HDD or SSD drive.
How do programs usually work?
When you launch a program, there are three stages where RAM, program processes, and the default HDD or SSD storage interact with each other to make the program work. Here are is an explanation of the whole process:
- When you launch a program or file, its required processes are loaded in the RAM for proper working. As HDD/SSD are slow, programs can only work properly inside the RAM. Once loaded, the program works inside the RAM all the time.
- While working, your PC’s operating system may automatically move some of the passive processes back to default storage (HDD/SDD) if you are not actively using the program (to free up RAM for other active programs). However, most of the required processes will always stay in the RAM and passive processes are immediately moved back to the RAM when you start using the program again.
- When you will close the program, its processes will stay in the RAM in the form of "RAM Cache". This cache will be deleted only when another program needs more RAM. Until then, you can again restart the program and it will start faster as all of its processes are still in the RAM.
To help you better understand, let’s see how these processes feel in real-time PC usage:
- When you launch a program, there is usually a delay before it properly opens up. This is the time when all the processes are loading in the RAM. You can even open "Task Manager" (Ctrl + Shift + Esc) side by side to see processes being copied in real-time.
- If you minimize your current program and start working on another one. You will notice a tiny delay (or a little stutter) when you will move back to the previous program again. It’s because the passive processes that were moved back to default storage are moving back to RAM.
- If you close a program and then restart it again during the same session, it will restart faster as compared to the time when you loaded it for the first time when you booted the PC. This is because the program is loading from the cache instead of the default storage. One of the reasons why you should not use a RAM cache cleaning tool.
How programs work inside a RAM drive?
Now keep the above processes in mind, when I tell you what speed boost you will be getting with a RAM drive. Here is how the above 3 stages of program processing work when you load a program from the RAM drive:
- As the program is already inside the RAM, there is no need to load its processes from the default storage to the RAM. So you will notice that the program will start up very quickly.
- As far as active working is concerned, you won’t see any speed boost unless the program depends on actively writing/reading data on local storage (more on it later). Whether you use a RAM drive or not, programs always work inside the RAM, so you will not notice any boost in performance.
- Closing and opening time of the program in the RAM drive will always stay the same. Simply because the program processes always stay in the RAM, even if you close it and load other programs in the RAM. It will not depend on RAM cache to speed up the restart time, and deleting the RAM cache won’t affect it either.
Performance boost you’ll get
To answer your question of what performance boost you may get with a RAM drive. A RAM drive will only boost the loading time of programs and nothing more. However, if the program you are using need to actively write or read data from local storage, then it will work faster.
For example, a video converter will save a converted video faster to the RAM drive as compared to default storage. An image editing software (or similar software) that saves changes in real-time (or automatically) will also work a little faster inside a RAM drive.
Of course, if you will move data inside one folder to another on the RAM drive, its processing will be very fast as well.
Practical uses of a RAM drive
The above explanation might have discouraged you a little, but that’s the truth. However, this doesn’t mean that RAM drives don’t have any practical uses. Some of the uses are below:
- You can move Windows temporary files folder and your browser’s cache folder to a RAM drive. This type of data is usually created to be deleted later in time, so there is no problem even if the RAM drive fails and delete this data. On top of that, this data is actively used by Windows and your browser to speed up processes. When it will be read from a RAM drive, the processing will be even faster. Here’s a good article on how to move Windows TEMP and browser cache folders to RAM drive.
- If a program takes time to load, then you can move it to RAM drive for faster load times.
- Video/Image/Audio converter and editing tools usually work faster inside a RAM drive. If you use such a program actively, then moving it to RAM drive will speed things up a bit.
- If you need to work between two folders and need to exchange data frequently, then moving both of them to a RAM drive will help.
- You can also put a sensitive program/file inside RAM drive and all of its data will be removed upon shutdown. Could be a good security measure as you cannot recover data from RAM by any means.
- And of course, if you are in desperate need of more space, then you can convert RAM into temporary storage space for data. I know RAM isn’t a reliable replacement for hard drive storage, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
How to create a RAM drive
Now that you know what RAM drive is and what are its advantages and disadvantages, let’s see how you can create one on your computer. You will need a third-party tool for this purpose, and I will be using Dataram RAMDisk tool for demonstration. It lets you create 1GB of RAM drive for free, but you will have to get paid version if you want to create bigger drives.
The tool is really easy to use and very reliable as well, that’s why I choose it for demonstration. If you want to create bigger drives, you can also use other similar RAM drive creator tools such as StarWind or SoftPerfect RAM Disk. However, they might not be as reliable as Dataram RAMDisk when it comes to UI and performance.
Install and launch Dataram RAMDisk program and edit its settings according to the following steps to create a RAM drive:
- In the "Settings" menu, go to "When I click start:", and select "create a new FAT disk".
- Right below it in the "Using:" option select the amount of RAM you would like to use as storage space. Make sure you leave enough RAM behind for the PC system to work.
- In the option "When I make changes to the files on the disk:" select "save them on shutdown" through the drop-down menu if you want to move the data to the hard drive so you could shut down the PC.
- If you want the data to be deleted instead, then select "do not save them".
- If you will select "save them on shutdown", you will also have to specify a location where the image will be saved to access later.
- Now simply click on "Start RAMDisk" and your RAM drive will be created. You will be able to see the drive next to your other system drives.
If you will shut down the PC, you will have to launch the Dataram RAMDisk application again and select "load a saved image" to select and load your saved data.
Creating a RAM drive can be very enticing, but in actual, it doesn’t offer much as it is advertised. However, it does have some practical uses and it can be beneficial for some people who are involved in editing type of work. Although do keep the downsides of RAM disks in mind and never save an important data inside it that you may regret later.
If you know any other good uses of a RAM drive or are currently using it for any specific purpose, do share with everyone in the comments below.