Solid state hard drives aren’t the first non-mechanical storage to appear in consumer PCs. RAM has been used for decades, but primarily as a short-term storage solution. The fast access times of RAM makes it perfect for storing data related to programs that are currently running on a system.
Enthusiasts have long tried to harness the advantages of short-term storage by creating what is known as a RAM disk or, more accurately, a RAM drive. You can still do this today. But should you?
What Is A RAM Disk?
The name says it all. A RAM disk is simply a bunch of memory modules that have been grouped together and then dedicated to long-term storage instead of short-term storage. The memory used is no different from ordinary RAM modules.
There two different ways to construct a RAM disk. One is to buy a dedicated platform, install RAM in it, and stick it inside your PC. An example of this sort of solution is the ACARD ANS-9010A, a 5.25 inch drive which can take up to 32GB of DDR2 RAM and connects like a normal SATA drive.
Alternatively, you can use a virtual RAM disk. This lumps together some of the RAM installed on your motherboard and creates a drive out of it. There are various software solutions, such as RAMDisk. Windows used to be able to handle this natively, but the functionality no longer exists.
Should I Use A RAM Disk?
You may be wondering why RAM has never been seen widespread use as a form of long-term storage. If it’s fast, wouldn’t a strong niche market appear?
The reason is simple. RAM is volatile memory, which means it loses all of its data when it isn’t receiving an electrical charge. If are using a computer and the power is interrupted, kiss the data on the RAM disk goodbye. There are a few situations where this is not a drawback. For most users, it’s a serious issue.
The only potential benefit is speed. There are benchmarks that show virtual RAM disks achieving sequential read/write speeds of over 5,000 MB/s. That’s many times what is available from a solid state drive. The entire capacity of the virtual drive can be read or written in seconds rather than minutes.
There are a few instances where an absurdly quick but small drive is useful. A RAM disk can make for a great cache drive. Hardcore gamers might use a very large RAM disk (8-16GB+) to install a game they’d like to load with extreme speed. Or you might use it to temporarily store some files that you are frequently loading into software, such as image files or text files.
Even in these scenarios, however, a RAM disk large enough to hold significant content is an expensive upgrade, even at today’s low RAM prices. A solid-state drive is a more practical choice in almost every situation.
I Want To Do It Anyway
If you’re still interested, go to the DataRAM website and download RAMDisk Personal. It lets you create a virtual disk with a size of 4GB for free. If you want to go beyond that a license is $18.99. It’s one of the least expensive options on the market.
Open the software once you’ve installed it. Under Basic Settings you will see drive options. Change the disk size to whatever you’d like and change the partition to FAT32. Then click Start RAMDisk. Blammo! It’s that easy.
There are just a few other relevant options. The Load And Save tab gives you the option to start the RAMDisk automatically when your system boots and save it automatically when it shuts down. There is also an autosave feature that backs up the drive frequently. The default is every 300 seconds.
Remember, YOU WILL LOSE DATA if you stop the RAMDisk, if you shut down without enabling the save feature or if your computer unexpectedly shuts down or restarts for any reason.
Another warning – do not automatically back up your RAMDisk to a solid state drive. Solid state drives are built to withstand only a certain number of read/write cycles. Under normal use an SSD should last a decade or more, but normal use does not include backing up four gigabytes (or more) every 300 seconds.
For most users a RAMDisk is not going to be the right solution. If you want a reliable, fast storage solution, buy a solid state drive like the Samsung 830.
If you just want to mess around, however, go ahead. There’s no disadvantage to trying it out. It doesn’t hurt your RAM and it won’t impact system performance so long as you have the memory to spare.
Image Credit: Justin Ruckman