Understanding Turbo Memory: It isn't as clear as you'd think

Before we can accurately gauge the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of Intel's Turbo Memory, we have to be sure we understand exactly what it is supposed to do.  Intel's Turbo Memory is on-motherboard flash split into two partitions: one for ReadyDrive and one for ReadyBoost.  Turbo Memory is offered in two flavors, 1GB and 512MB, with 512MB and 256MB partitions respectively. 

The ReadyDrive portion of Turbo Memory is designed to work with Vista's ReadyDrive technology.  ReadyDrive's fundamental goal is to cache data from the hard disk to either improve performance or in the case of a notebook, improve battery life.  The primary role of ReadyDrive with Turbo Memory in a notebook, is to increase battery life. 

ReadyDrive can increase battery life by fulfilling data request out of low power flash memory, and keeping the hard disk spun down when not needed.  If enough data is stored in the ReadyDrive partition of Intel's Turbo Memory, the hard drive can remain spun down for significant periods of time, thereby improving overall battery life.  Obviously the success of ReadyDrive depends on its ability to correctly prefetch the right data into Turbo Memory's cache, but if it works, the battery savings could be significant. 

The hard drive in our test system is a Hitachi Travelstar 7K100, which draws anywhere from 0.9W to 1.2W on average when simply spinning and not accessing data.  In its lowest power mode, the 7K100 draws only 0.2W, so if we can keep the drive spun down the total system power savings are in the 0.7W - 1W range.  If the drive is seeking for data, power consumption is almost 3W, and actually reading data off of the drive eats up 2.3W.  If the data can be instead read from low power flash memory, the power savings could be tremendous. 

Intel once stated that every watt of system power you can shave off can net as much as 20 - 30 extra minutes of battery life, meaning ReadyDrive with Turbo Memory can yield a measurable increase in battery life.  The reality is that 512MB of flash memory isn't enough to keep the hard drive spun down 100% of the time, so the real question is how much of an impact will there be under real world usage?  We'll be answering that question shortly, but now let's look at what Turbo Memory intends to do for ReadyBoost.

Taken from our Windows Vista Performance Guide:

ReadyBoost functions as a compliment to SuperFetch, giving SuperFetch another place to cache data that - while not as good as RAM - is better than just reading data off of the hard drive. An important distinction however is that while RAM is both quick to access and has high transfer rates, flash memory only offers quick access times, with transfer rates below that of even hard drives. As a result ReadyBoost is only useful in situations where small random data accesses are required, whereas larger transfers that may need sequential access are sent directly to the hard drive. This makes ReadyBoost less readily beneficial than SuperFetch, but with USB flash drives going for under $20/gigabyte, it's a cheap and effective way to boost performance of RAM-limited computers in a number of situations.

ReadyBoost also serves as a read cache of the system pagefile, with the idea that swapping to disk is less painful if it's done to a USB flash drive. Don't worry about sensitive data being kept and lost on your USB drive though; the data is compressed and encrypted so that it should be fairly useless once the drive is removed from use.

The point of ReadyBoost is to make things faster when you run out of memory, but is Turbo Memory any faster/better than simply using an external USB drive?  The one advantage Turbo Memory has for ReadyBoost over an external USB drive is that the data stored in the ReadyBoost partition remains persistent through hibernation.  In a normal system with a USB drive being used for ReadyBoost, if you hibernate the machine, the ReadyBoost data on the USB drive is invalidated because the USB drive could have been removed/tampered with and Vista can no longer count on the integrity of that data.  Turbo Memory does not have that problem as the flash is on the motherboard and can't easily be removed on the fly, thus Vista will keep ReadyBoost data persistent in its flash when coming out of hibernate.  The benefit being that any data cached via ReadyBoost will be accessible coming out of hibernate, which simply isn't true when not using Turbo Memory.  This is the only advantage of Turbo Memory with respect to ReadyBoost, and understanding that will help you understand when/where it will make an impact on system usage.

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  • Alyx - Thursday, June 21, 2007 - link

    It seems readyboost only helps with subsequent reads rather than the initial read, so it makes no sense as to why it would help in the case of watching a movie because the data is never repeated. I guess it just keeps the drive from idling because its farther between reads.

    I think this would help a lot for students, when I sit in class for an hour or two taking notes I'm only using one program so theoretically it would never have to access the hard drive for the whole class time. If a student had classes back to back without a way to charge (which is often the case) this technology could make a noticeable difference.
    Reply
  • BigLan - Thursday, June 21, 2007 - link

    It could help with movies if it's used as a read-ahead cache. Once the OS sees that the movie file has been read, it loads the whole of the movie into flash (or as much as would fit.)

    Also, if you're working in class with just word (or onenote) open, your hard drive should be pretty inactive anyway. Once the program is loaded into ram then the drive isn't read from. If you have an autosave feature turned on then that would hit the HD, but having the file on an external flash drive would get around that anyway.
    Reply
  • xanderman - Saturday, November 07, 2009 - link

    I have a 4GB Turbo Memory card installed, $65.
    I think the article could use a little update to reflect on the availability of faster and larger Turbo Memory cards at lower prices, to examine their overall effectiveness in this (newer?) format and pricing.
    I don't know if there was any performance boost, never did any benchmarks and all I've been doing is setting up this new computer, then install i-ram and continue customizations.
    I can tell you, however, that the installation was easy, one reboot, so the article is definitely way off in regards to installation, OUTDATED and UNRELIABLE.
    Glad I never beleived them n the first place and bought the card despite their opinion.
    Reply
  • casket - Thursday, June 21, 2007 - link

    "However, adding 1GB of actual RAM won't improve battery life at all, and in fact it should reduce it slightly."
    -- What are the power requirements of Flash vs. Ram vs. Hard Drive?

    I would have liked to have seen Anand test the power benchmarks on the additional 1 GB ram as well.
    Reply
  • burnley - Thursday, June 21, 2007 - link

    Wouldn't it be cool if the manufacturers could load safe drivers on something like this so when your mum gets a virus and you have to reload everything you don't have to either hunt for the driver disk, or hunt for the drivers online, just access them from an internal read-only drive?
    On-board network is great unless you don't have the motherboard driver disk and a fresh boot, then that loverly external USB flash drive is a godsend.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, June 21, 2007 - link

    Isn't that the point of these "hidden" hard drive partitions that so many computers have these days? Reply
  • burnley - Thursday, June 21, 2007 - link

    Unless the hard drive fails, or you want to upgrade it, etc. Also that is only applicable on pre-built machines.
    A simple flash device with drivers could be put on add-in cards like graphics, etc.

    Only an idea...
    Reply
  • xsilver - Thursday, June 21, 2007 - link

    quote:

    Obviously adding another GB of memory is more expensive than adding ReadyBoost, and in this case ReadyBoost can give you close to the same performance as adding the extra memory.


    quote:

    dditional cost of adding Turbo Memory to a notebook (expected to be at least $100 USD).

    1gb of ram can be had for a lot less than $100
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, June 21, 2007 - link

    ReadyBoost capable USB Flash sticks are available for something like $15 for 1GB, $24 for 2GB, or a whopping $40 for 4GB. Turbo Memory modules on the other hand are not merely a USB device that you plug in, so they currently cost more. Of course, there seems to be a healthy price premium for the technology right now....

    Adding a 1GB ReadyBoost device is cheap and easy. Adding 1GB of Turbo Memory seems pointless as it will cost more than 1GB of actual RAM. However, adding 1GB of actual RAM won't improve battery life at all, and in fact it should reduce it slightly. So, you're paying $100 for slightly improved performance along with potentially better battery life.
    Reply
  • BigLan - Thursday, June 21, 2007 - link

    It seems like an extra $100 for this stuff would be better spent on an extra battery for your laptop which would double the battery life (though you have to switch them out and recharge them.) You could probably also afford a 1 gig flash drive for readyboost. Reply

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