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Caching in

Readyboostphoto_2If you’ve recently upgraded a bunch of PCs to Windows Vista in your school and are disappointed that they’re slower and less reliable than when running Windows XP, you’re not alone. It’s true that Vista requires more resources than its predecessor, which can lead to slow and unreliable computers that get in the way of digital learning. But, instead of complaining, do something about it.

There’s a trick to squeezing some extra performance and stability out of an older PC running Vista. Called ReadyBoost, it allows a simple flash memory key to be used as a data cache to boost the PC’s speed. Memory keys have never been cheaper with many actually ending up costing the school nothing or close to it after a rebate.

By providing a place to temporarily store the most frequently used pieces of programming code and data, ReadyBoost can streamline the PC’s operations. The result is a computer that runs faster and is more reliably but not every memory key can be used for this task. Unfortunately, I have found no online place that lists which keys work and which don’t. The best bet is to look over the memory key’s specifications and make sure it has an access time of 1 millisecond or less.

ReadyboostaIt’s not a miracle but ReadyBoost can make things work just a little more efficiently and older PCs more responsive. Using some SanDisk flash memory keys, I upgraded an Acer notebook with 2-, 4-, 8- and 16GB of ReadyBoost flash memory. To see its effect on performance, I used Passmark’s Performance 6.1 benchmark, which not only measures the speed of every major aspect of a computer but produces an overall score that indicates the system’s potential to perform typical tasks that schools require. 

The best part is that it’s about the easiest upgrade to perform. After you insert the memory key into an unused USB slot, click on the Speed up my System icon in the AutoPlay box. Alternatively, go to the drive’s Properties page, open the ReadyBoost tab and select how much memory you want to apportion to this technique. All told, it takes about 30 seconds to upgrade a PC. This is even something a computer neophyte or student intern can do.

ReadyboostbWithout any ReadyBoost cache, the system scored a 236.3, which rose to 243.8 with 1.9GB of cache and 258.6 with 3.7GB of cache. Due to ReadyBoost’s overhead, these are the maximum amounts of cache you can get out of a 2- and 4GB flash key. That’s about a 10 percent increase in overall performance, which may not sound like much but it’s the equivalent to using a faster processor or more system memory. For many processor and storage tasks, the increase is even higher. But, for other tasks, like graphics, there’s either no effect or the cache actually slows these operations down.

CACHE IN A FLASH
Memory Key Size              Actual Cache     Performance score
No ReadyBoost cache        None                   236.3
2GB ReadyBoost cache      1.9GB                 243.8
4GB ReadyBoost cache      3.7GB                 258.6
8GB ReadyBoost cache      4.1GB                 233.3
16GB ReadyBoost cache    4.1GB                 236.6

Too much of a good thing can be quite a lot of fun, but ReadyBoost reaches its limit at about 4GB. In fact, the software doesn’t allow more than 4.1GB to be used. More to the point, the extra flash memory in a larger key actually slows the system down and is a waste. So, if you want to make Vista run better, keep your eye on the electronics’ stores Sunday ad circulars and buy a bunch of 4GB memory keys when they go on sale.

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