Disk drives lag behind other components in the PC in terms of performance and a computer would run a lot faster if it wasn’t for the slow disk drive. If only there was some way of speeding it up. An SSD (solid state disk) is an option, but they are still expensive. If money is tight and your PC has lots of memory, some of it could be used as a super fast RAM disk.
A RAM disk uses part of the computer’s memory to simulate a disk drive. As it is just memory, and accessing memory is far faster than accessing a disk drive, the RAM disk will be incredibly fast. You could put your favourite software on the RAM disk and then it could be started much more quickly than running it from a disk drive. Photo and video editing will be faster from a RAM disk too.
What if you have an SSD? Well, that is already a very fast storage device, but SSDs have a limited lifetime and you can only read and write to them a fixed number of times before they wear out. Using a RAM disk will reduce wear and tear on an SSD.
RAM disks require a lot of memory and it isn’t worth it if you have less than 6GB of memory in the computer. Ideally you should have 8 or even 16GB. Reducing the memory available to Windows to 4GB or less will slow it down, so if the PC has 6GB of RAM, you could create a 1GB RAM disk without affecting performance too much. If you have 8GB then a 2GB RAM disk would be fine and people with 16GB of RAM in their PC could create a 4 or even 8GB RAM disk.
SoftPerfect RAM Disk is a free utility that enables you to create a RAM disk – a virtual disk drive using the PC’s memory. If you have 32-bit Windows then disks up to 4GB can be created and if you have 64-bit Windows then any size disk is possible.
After installing SoftPerfect RAM Disk, run it and click the plus button in the toolbar. Enter the size in MB in the box at the top, such as 1024 for a 1GB disk. Select the file system below – FAT32 is one option and it is always used for USB flash memory drives. It is fine, but NTFS is good too and that is standard on all Windows disk drives.
Click the Advanced button if you want to set the volume label (disk name) or enable compression, which enables you to store more files on the disk. Compression is only available if you choose NTFS for the filing system though.
Click OK and after a few seconds, open an Explorer window. The new disk drive will be listed on the left and it can be used just as a real disk drive.
Switch off the PC or click the disk icon with the cross in the toolbar and the RAM disk disappears and all the contents are lost. This is because memory chips don’t retain the information when the power is switched off, so don’t put anything on the RAM disk that you want to keep, or remember to copy any files you want to keep to the real disk drive using Explorer before shutting down.
If the contents of RAM disks are lost, it might not seem that useful, but it can be used for temporary files, video editing and other purposes. There is also a way to make it remember its contents when you switch off, just like a real disk drive.
Go to the Image menu and select Create Image. This creates a virtual disk drive not in memory, but on the disk. If you create a 1GB (1024MB) disk image, it uses 1GB of disk space, so be aware of the disk space requirement. Use the option on the Image menu to mount the image.
A disk image works just like a real disk, and you can copy files to and from it in Explorer, applications and so on. I is just like the real thing. This is not like a RAM disk because it uses the disk drive. It runs at disk drive speeds and this is a lot slower than a RAM disk. However, there is a way to have your cake and eat it.
After creating a disk image, click the plus to create a RAM disk and this time, click the folder in the top box under Image File Name and select the disk image you created. Tick the option to Save Contents to Image.
What this does is to create a RAM disk, but instead of being empty and having no files, it loads the disk contents from the image. Think of the disk image file on the disk drive as a backup and when the RAM disk is created, it restores from the backup automatically.
This means that whatever you store on the RAM disk stays there, just like a real disk drive, even when you switch off. (Actually, you should unmount disk images and RAM disks rather than powering off, it’s safer and gives the RAM disk time to save the contents to the image file.)
What can you do with it? One possibility is portable software. Go to portableapps.com and there is lots of software such as GIMP, LibreOffice, Firefox, and many more programs. These can all be placed on the RAM disk. They can be accessed much more quickly than if they were on the disk drive.