Using RAM instead of a harddisk?

At Computex, Gigabyte presented a RAM-based harddisk that offers more than 60x the performance of a regular harddisk. From the article on PCWorld:

Giga-byte’s IRam is a PC add-in card with four DDR DRAM (double data rate dynamic RAM memory) slots that’s designed to be used as a PC drive. Because the IRam uses DRAM rather than a hard disk to store information, data can be retrieved from the drive up to 60 times faster than is possible with a hard drive, according to Giga-byte, which showed the board at the Computex exhibition in Taipei this week.

The IRam was originally designed for video and editing applications where users require fast access to very large files, but the company soon realized that the IRam had other potential applications, says Tim Handley, a marketing account manager at the company.

The device is estimated to be about $60 without the DDR DRAM (which would mean about $450 for a 4 GB drive?). Hmmm… a little expensive, but for an avid overclocker, it might worth its money. Especially when you significantly reduce the boot time.

The most interesting aspect was their approach for data persistence. What you do when the power goes out?

Unlike DRAM-based main memory, the IRam card doesn’t lose data when the PC is switched off, says Thomas Chang, a product manager at Giga-byte. As long as the PC is plugged into a socket, a very small amount of current continues to run through some parts of the system, including the PCI slots. This provides enough power to make sure that no data is lost, he says.

If the PC is unplugged, the IRam has an on-board battery for emergency power that can last up to 12 hours, he says.

This contrasts somewhat with another approach that I’ve noted before, where you use flash memory that doesn’t require power all the time.

And, if you ask me, I think that the demarcation line between RAM-based vs. spindle-based storage devices will become more and more blurry in the near future…

Comments (8)

  1. Yaytay says:

    OK, say you’ve got a 4GB version, what do you stick on it?

    Which files on your system are the hottest?

    How can you find out?

    Can you put a subset of your Windows directory on a separate drive?

    What would be really ironic is backing your paging file with a RAM disc – using RAM when you don’t have enough RAM!

  2. Travis Owens says:

    Using this card as a boot device is a HORRIBLE idea.

    The battery life being only 12hrs, it’s possibly a serious black out, or if you moved, you could easily loose your boot disk, then what?

    Considering an optimize XP build can boot in 15secs, bootup time is minimal, there are much larger bottlenecks to worry about.

    The best use for this disk is the following:

    Windows Swap File

    IE Temporary Files

    Photoshop Scratch Disk

    Visual Studio Projects (better have a nightly backup!)

    I’m very temtped to buy this card, stick in 1 gig and run it as my swap file.

  3. damien says:

    Why would anyone prefer to have a 1GB RAMdisk for their swapfile instead of adding 1GB RAM to their system.

  4. Travis Owens says:

    Technically you are correct… if you have 1 gig of ram and am ONLY concerned about the swap file, then add the 1 gig of ram to your PC and disable the swap file.

    But imho, you would gain more performance using this card as a hardware ram disk when you throw a Photoshop scratch disk (I do a lot of Photoshop) along with using it as an IE cache location.

    On second though, can I even change the location of the IE cache folder or the swap file? Hmm, perhaps I should just recede that idea as I don’t see a way how to do this.

    Dispite, this makes a great solution for graphics, audio & video editing, any other use is probably 2nd rate at best.

  5. AdiOltean says:

    >> But imho, you would gain more performance using this card as a hardware ram disk when you throw a Photoshop scratch disk (I do a lot of Photoshop) along with using it as an IE cache location.

    You are probably right. The performance advantages might be visible when you load initial (uncached) data from the harddrive. I.e. the "cold read" scenario. This perf increase might be more is noticeable during boot, or when you read a very large file.

    By the way, you can change the IE cache location, if you go to ToolsInternet Options…Settings…

  6. I’d be a little worried about the 12-hour outage myself.

    Disks that are 60x the speed of HDD might necessitate re-thinking the cache manager a bit. You might find that you don’t want to cache a disk that is so close to RAM-speed, and instead use the extra physical memory in other ways.

    Thinking about this for 5 minutes makes me think of Raymond Chen’s recent (and not-so-recent) posts about optimization and profiling. It may affect lots of cache manager and memory manager assumptions.

    Oh yeah – if you’re close to your physical memory limit on your box, this would be nice. You could use memory-mapped files as a kind of poor-man’s PAE for low-end systems.