i-RAM as a Paging Drive

One question that we've seen a lot is whether or not the i-RAM can be used to store your pagefile. Since the i-RAM behaves just like a regular hard drive, Windows has no problem using it to store your pagefile, so the "can you" part of that question is easily answered. The real question happens to be, "should you?"

We have heard arguments on both sides of the fence; some say that Windows inefficiently handles memory and inevitably pages to disk even when you have memory to spare, while others say that you'd be stupid to put your pagefile on an i-RAM rather than just add more memory to your system. So, which is it?

Unfortunately, this is the type of thing that's difficult to benchmark, but it is the type of thing that's pretty easy to explain if you just sit down and use the product. We set up a machine, very similar to how we would a personal system, but tended to focus on memory hogs - web pages with lots of Flash, Photoshop, etc. Of course, we opened them all up at once, switched between the applications, used them independently, simultaneously, basically whatever we could do to stress the system as it normally would be stressed.

At the same time, we monitored a number of things going on - mainly the size of the pagefile, the amount of system memory used, the frequency of disk accesses, pagefile usage per process... basically everything we could get our hands on through perfmon to give us an idea if Windows was swapping to disk or not.

The end result? There was no real tangible performance difference between putting more memory in the system and using the hard disk for the pagefile or putting less memory in the system and using the i-RAM for the pagefile. Granted, if we had a way of measuring the overall performance, it would have shown that we would be much better off with more memory in the system (it runs faster, and it is accessed much quicker than off the i-RAM).

The only benefit that we found to using the i-RAM to store our pagefile was if you happened to have a couple GBs of older DDR200 memory lying around; that memory would be useless as your main system memory in a modern machine, but it'd make a lot better of a pagefile than a mechanical hard disk.

One more situation we encountered that would benefit from storing your pagefile on the i-RAM was those seemingly random times when Windows swaps to disk for no reason. But for the most part, our system was slower when we had less memory and stored the swapfile in it than when we had more memory and less swap file.

Adobe Photoshop is a slightly different creature as it keeps a scratch disk that is separate from the Windows pagefile. We tested Photoshop and used the i-RAM as our scratch disk, but in all cases it always made more sense to just throw more memory at Photoshop to improve performance where we ran out of memory. If the operations you're performing in Photoshop can fit into system memory, then you'll never touch the scratch disk.

Overall, based on our testing, the i-RAM doesn't make much sense as a paging drive unless you have the spare memory. The problem with "spare" DDR200 memory is that it is most likely in small 64MB, 128MB or maybe 256MB sizes, which doesn't buy you much space on an i-RAM drive. For most people, you're much better off just tossing more memory in your system.

i-RAM Pure I/O Performance i-RAM as a boot drive
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  • RobRedman - Saturday, October 07, 2006 - link

    I must have 50 sticks of unused PC100 and PC133 SDRAM.
    Something like this for old RAM would be a value, (for me).
    Does anyone know of an adapter that would take, lets say, 10 sticks of SDRAM and give me an IDE or USB connector?
    Reply
  • ITLisa - Saturday, October 01, 2005 - link

    I spent a little time looking for this and not even the manufacturer lists it on their site
    Reply
  • mtownshend - Tuesday, March 14, 2006 - link

    It was on Gigabytes site as I looked today and the past month while making the descion to get it.

    There's been a lag while retailers get rid of the v.1.2 and Gigabyte sends out the v1.3 cards.

    I just got one of the new ones and will use it to run my FTP server application. I have 14 or 16 drives connected (6TB) to the server and previous reviews by others have pointed to the performance increse from the FTP app. searching and retaining the disk locations.

    since I just got it I am not %100 on the reality, and the real benifit will be realized by the client seeking a file from the server. Using it for MS SQL Server is also a great idea. Other than that I haven't heard any real world uses, I mean users might be able to load Doom faster, but this device seems to be a bit expensive for most.

    Also this card is bigger in area than most video cards, so if your box is crammed w/ wires or liquid pumps and resivours. The logistics of getting say 2 video cards and the RamDisk in a midsized case are pretty obsurd. Plus you need a fan or 2 in there to swirl around the heat generated by 3 heat monger cards) ...There goes more money in a bigger case.

    For the general user, I would go with the new Raptor (the clear one) if you want to compromise speed, size and cost on a rational level.

    Peace all
    Reply
  • lrohrer - Tuesday, September 13, 2005 - link

    The simplelist and best use of the i-ram is to store the "Temp DB" for SQL Server. MS SQL Server constanly writes to this database in most larger installations. It is temporary and by definitions does need to exist after reboot. (Alas SQL Server does not/CAN NOT keep this database in RAM) So on reboot a script will need to verify that it is still formatted and the appropriate file system/ files exist -- copied from the hard disk. SQL Serve is fussy about hardware so it masquerading as a disk is perfect.

    In an hour on google I can't find someone to sell it to my boss to try it out. sigh.

    My prediction is a 5-10% boost to overall throughput on a SQL server installation with lots of "temp DB" activilty -- well worth the cost of the ram chips.
    Reply
  • brandonbates - Friday, August 05, 2005 - link

    I've been keeping an eye on ram disks for a little while now, but other than software they are just too expensive. The earlier post that had links to them (both flash and DRAM based disks) was the same stuff that I found. More recently I had been relieved by the availability of 64bit Systems and OSes with more slots/address space for ram and thus bigger ram disks. But it still really burned me that someoune couldn't make something really cheap that didn't rely on a big fat motherboard (which still has only so many slots, but admittedly faster).
    This qualifies. The second I heard about this while reading computex stuff I said to myself: Self, this thing only takes power from the PCI bus, therefore it would be a trivial thing to buy some PCI slots (like 8) and wire them for power, then raid or jbod these together and get one heck of database drive at a fraction of the cost of other solutions, and scaleable at that (I can start out with 2 or 3).
    I also think it would be a nice (and easy) thing for them to put it in a 3.5" form factor with both molex and/or 3.3v standby loopthrough (through a pci dummy card or something). And yes 8 slots would be much more saleable, understanding that the mem controller may not support that (though some sort of bank switch would work since you have time to wait for the SATA or SATA2 bus, 3.5 form factor would get difficult with 8 slots though).
    The situation that got me looking at this stuff is I have a mysql database (tested others as well) that has to do a table scan each time I do a query since it is a '%something%' query (loading web logs and running user demanded reports on them) The database is at around 4 gigs already (about 6 months worth, including 0.5GB packed indexes) and the report takes about two minutes (2 15k drives in RAID 1, not bad) But I still have to run it at night and make a summary table. (maybe a database with multithreaded partitions or grid would do it, but how much does that cost???!?) Anyway, my 2 cents (sorry for the long post). I'd really, really like to know what benchmarks say the latency for this thing is.
    Reply
  • Zar0n - Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - link

    For a mass product gigabyte needs to add.

    8 dimm slots
    SATA2

    Let's hope they do it fast...
    Reply
  • ybbor - Friday, July 29, 2005 - link

    What would happen if you stored a SQL database on the drive... wonder what it would do for database proformance benchmarks.

    you would probably back up to HD every night, or cluster with db on HD for data integrety
    Reply
  • Chadder007 - Friday, July 29, 2005 - link

    They should have went with a SATA II capable interface instead of regular SATA since it has much more capable bandwidth sitting there waiting to be used. Also the 4 gig of mem only hurts it a tad too. Reply
  • optiguy - Friday, July 29, 2005 - link

    Now just as a thought to scary uses for the i-RAM. Law enforcement will hate these things. Peadophiles will have instant access to wiping there files without a trace, terrorist won't have to worry about the good guys being able to track their files. Reply
  • mindless1 - Friday, July 29, 2005 - link

    Nope, pedos have a compulsive urge to collect stuff, 4GB wouldn't even come close. Besides, if the pedo was thinking that far in advance, there are plenty of already-existent technologies far more secure. When the cops come busting down someone's door, do you think they'll saw something like "freeze, don't move, unless you prefer to go over to your computer and wipe data!" ? Then again, general ignorance about the need to keep the evidence battery charged could be an issue. Reply

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