Student Zine Competition 2nd Place: SuperFetch

By Paul Kiddie, Microsoft Student Partner.

Like a lot of students, I think access to information at the fastest speed possible is incredibly important.

With the arrival of Microsoft Windows Vista, access to information has been greatly improved through innovations in memory management with SuperFetch.

Typically in Windows XP I would use Live Desktop Search to locate some coursework (search now built into Vista), but then I would have to wait for the application to start up. Instead, Vista pre-empts what I do each day. If I read e-mail at a particular time, or I'm opening Internet Explorer continuously, these applications are precached into my computer's RAM, whether permanently or temporarily at certain times of the day. No more waiting valuable seconds (as I know we're all busy people!) to get access to my information.

SuperFetch's roots began like a lot of Microsoft products, at their research labs. The overall aim of it was to "teach the computer to learn from users to make the machine more proactive", to increase the perceived speed of the computer, using artificial intelligence techniques. The implementation in Vista tracks my use of programs including the time I use them. It spots patterns in my usage and then populates the memory with those applications. Pre-Vista I've been used to disk-thrashing, where programs are paged to the hard disk, and the OS slows to a crawl. I've tried to carry on working only to find the application I've just worked with is even slower to start up. With SuperFetch this behaviour is vastly reduced.

I've also got a high-capacity memory stick. With Vista I can allocate some space as a virtual cache. This is known as ReadyBoost and is another part of the SuperFetch technology, suited for increasing the speed of fast random reads of frequently accessed data, by putting this onto the cache on the memory stick. It takes advantage of the incredibly fast access times (in the order of ns) associated with them. Before Windows Vista this type of cache was non-existent and the same data would be read from the hard disk, mechanical in nature, leading to millisecond access times.

Vista also looks to the future with ReadyDrive, another derivative of SuperFetch. This takes advantage of new hybrid hard disks which have a high-speed cache in addition to regular platters to keep regularly accessed data on the cache rather than having to read from the hard disk.

SuperFetch in its various forms has made a real difference to how I work. Applications seem more responsive and start up quicker. Vista on start-up is more responsive, which means I can start work sooner - making me more productive.

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