Feature Articles

Are you Ready for Windows Vista?

By Vincent Chang - 15 Apr 2007

What is ReadyBoost?

What is ReadyBoost?

Now that we have seen how Windows Vista performs on three different configurations, what should you do if you feel that your system is less than ideal? Well, we would first recommend that you run the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor for your system and find out which subsystem is below par for Vista. Generally, the processor and memory should be the key concerns, especially if you are a casual gamer. Of the two, memory is one of the easiest components to upgrade if you need a small but effective performance boost, more so for Windows Vista, where our own recommendations would be to have at least 1GB of system memory. Microsoft may state 512MB as the minimum but as our low-end system has demonstrated, that is woefully little for Vista and other modern applications.

If upgrading is not an option, due to cost constraints, the lack of expansion slots or simply because your PC vendor don't like you to fiddle with something you bought and would just love to void your warranty if you so much as crack open the chassis, Microsoft has provided an alternative with Windows Vista - ReadyBoost.

ReadyBoost, to quote Microsoft, "is a new concept in adding memory to a system ." The basic premise is to supplement system memory with relatively fast (compared to a hard disk for random seeks) flash memory in order to improve system performance. As we have mentioned earlier, memory is a simple and cost effective way to increase performance and if you can't upgrade system memory for whatever reasons, ReadyBoost is sort of the 'consolation prize'.

It is implemented through USB based flash devices, meaning common USB peripherals and accessories like thumb drives and even a SD memory card can be conscripted into doing duty as a secondary memory cache, as long as you have at least 230MB of free space on the flash device. ReadyBoost is reliant on the underlying new memory management feature, SuperFetch to juggle and manage the various memory sources efficiently so that applications and files load faster, leading to greater system responsiveness. It is not the same as having additional system memory but more like relocating the virtual memory cache in the flash memory to take advantage of the advantages of flash memory. A copy of the same virtual memory cache will always be present on the hard drive so there won't be any problems if you accidentally disconnect the flash device. Meanwhile, the ReadyBoost memory cache on the flash device is encrypted using AES-128 to relieve fears of losing the flash memory. Finally, in case you're wondering, currently you can only use one flash device for ReadyBoost; plugging in multiple devices will not work in aggregate though Microsoft has hinted at the possibility of that happening in the future.

ReadyBoost Requirements

Not all flash memory devices are ReadyBoost capable. Generally, slower and older flash devices will not be compatible. You should be able to tell if a flash device works with ReadyBoost just by plugging it into the USB interface of a Windows Vista PC. Some vendors have already started advertising their ReadyBoost capable products but if you have an older and unmarked flash memory device, you can check this compatibility website for a list of flash drives and memory cards that have been tested to work with ReadyBoost. Some guidelines about what you should look out for when shopping for a ReadyBoost capable flash drive:

  • Supports USB 2.0
  • Minimum speed of 2.5MB/s for 4k random reads and 1.75MB/s for 512K random writes
  • At least 230MB of free space (maximum is 4GB)

Some vendors even have flash memory products for dedicated ReadyBoost usage such as Corsair's TurboFlash 1GB drives that are specially optimized for the frequent random read/write operations required as an extension of the system memory and has very low latency operation. These products are targeted at those requiring a more permanent add-on solution where they can just plug it in at the system rear and forget about it.