After working long and hard to get Windows Vista RC2 nearly 100% functional on the Samsung Q1 UMPC, the next step is definitely performance tweaking. One of the first things I did in light of that was to read up on the ReadyBoost function in Windows Vista. If you haven’t heard of ReadyBoost, there’s a number of good sources that describe it in detail; some of them I’ll be referencing here for your after hours reading. Aside from an explanation, I’ll also share with you what I purchased specifically for using the ReadyBoost functionality on the Q1 UMPC. Remember, that Vista is running quite well on the 900 MHz Celeron based device; I previously upgraded the RAM to 1 GB, so let’s see what Ready Boost does for us!
So what is ReadyBoost and why do I care?
If you hit up the Microsoft Vista features page and look under performance, you’ll get the basics of ReadyBoost:
"Windows ReadyBoost lets users use a removable flash memory device, such as a USB thumb drive, to improve system performance without opening the box. Windows ReadyBoost can improve system performance because it can retrieve data kept on the flash memory more quickly than it can retrieve data kept on the hard disk, decreasing the time you need to wait for your PC to respond."
Think of it this way: it’s almost as if you’re adding more system memory to your device, which typically increases performance. The nice part is: you don’t have to crack open your computer to add the "boost"! If you’ve got a USB-based flash-drive with 256 MB of capacity or more, you might be able to take advantage of the ReadyBoost feature.
So, is it the same as adding more memory to my device?
Actually, no. You’re not truly adding system memory like you would with an updated memory module in your system board and the amount of RAM in your system properties doesn’t change. Essentially, ReadyBoost uses your flash storage as another disk cache. Of course the first question that comes to mind is: so if I add more drive space for cache, that’s the same thing right? Again, no not exactly. The different between additional cache space on disk and cache space on a flash drive is in the speed of access. You can typically retrieve data much faster from flash storage than you can from magnetic hard drive storage. On the other hand, large amounts of sequential data from a hard drive might be retrieved more efficiently than small, random bits of data; in the second instance, a flash drive excels.
Can I use any USB-based flash storage?
There’s a few requirements and guidelines around this and not all flash drives will work. First off, your flash drive must have a capacity of at least 256 MB and not more than 4 GB. Smaller than 256 MB and you simply wouldn’t gain enough benefit; 4 GB is the max due a file allocation size limit. Your flash drive also has to be quick enough for ReadyBoost. Don’t go by all of the package labeling on your flash drive, you’ll want to have storage that can transfer around 2 MBps. If you’re unsure that your device will work, don’t worry, Vista will tell you. In fact, if Vista says that your device isn’t fast enough, try this trick: shut down all unnecessary programs and processes, then have Vista try again. It could be that your flash drive is on the cusp, but other system resources took precedence. For a listing of devices that are known to work, check out the compatibility list that Grant Gibson maintains.
Where can I get more information on ReadyBoost?
- Matt Ayers is the Program Manager for Windows Client Performance and Tom Archer (another Microsoftie) tracked him down for a full Q&A, which is invaluable.
- Previously mentioned but worth another: Grant Gibson’s device compatibility list.
- Scott Hanselmen’s thoughts on the technology; one of the first posts I read about ReadyBoost.
My personal experience
After reading up on Vista’s ReadyBoost feature, I decided to drop a few bucks for a SanDisk 1 GB Ultra II SD Plus USB card. At time of this writing, we had these in our Amazon store for $39.99 (Affiliate Link) and they really add flexibility with the dual format. They’re a typical SD card, but they fold in half and expose a USB 2.0 interface for devices without an SD slot or card reader. Since the Samsung Q1 doesn’t have an SD slot, this was a perfect accessory for me.
I took a chance on this card because I hadn’t seen anyone test it on Grant’s list yet. I figured in the worst case, I’d still have a dual-purpose card for the Q1 and for my other computers that do support the SD format. SanDisk claims write/read throughput of 9 MB/sec, 10 MB/sec, but you never know. Turns out, this card worked like a charm for ReadyBoost on the Q1 (and I need to let Grant know!).
Setup was simple in Vista. I simply popped the USB portion of the card into a USB slot on the Q1 and Vista immediately asked if I wanted to enable ReadyBoost. Vista also suggests an optimal cache size, so I went with the default. Essentially, Vista is using around 90% of my 1 GB memory card for a large cache, still leaving me with some external storage capacity.
I haven’t run any benchmark applications, but ReadyBoost has a noticeable performance increase in many areas. Applications open quicker, access to data appears faster and web-surfing is positively zippy when I’m hitting sites I’ve previously hit. Bear in mind that ReadyBoost really shines when fetching non-sequential data from the cache. You won’t gain any benefit when streaming audio or video, for example.
Here’s the interesting thing because I know someone will ask the question "What happens when you remove the flash drive?" It’s actually quite simple (and noticeable): system performance returns back to what it was prior to using ReadyBoost. There’s no device installs or uninstalls, the system just keeps on working minus the extra cache. When you need a "boost", you can simply pop your ReadyBoost device back in and BAM! You’re humming on all 8-cylinders again.
For mobile devices that would be marginal performers on Vista, ReadyBoost is just what the doctor ordered. The fact that you can use small accessories to gain the performance boost is perfect because there’s always room in the gadget bag for a high capacity flash drive, no?