Windows ReadyBoost – Fiction or Fact?

Windows ReadyBoost was a feature introduced in Windows Vista and it is also available in Windows 7. ReadyBoost promised to improve application loading times by linearly caching application files. To do this, ReadyBoost required a Class 4 or better USB Flash-drive or a memory card. External card-readers and hard disk drives are not supported.

The premise of ReadyBoost is:

  • Determine which applications and which files of these applications get used most.
  • Create a ReadyBoost cache file on a Flash memory device.
  • Enable disk-compression (real-time compression/decompression, up-to 1:2 compression) in the ReadyBoost cache.
  • Store frequently used application files into the Cache
  • Since Flash memory devices are faster than hard-disk drives at accessing small files that may be scattered all over, in theory ReadyBoost could improve application loading times by loading the programs from the Flash memory instead of the hard disk drive.

However, in my experience, ReadyBoost fails to deliver on that promise. Here’s why:

1) The operating system loads applications by checking in with the the System Cache (in main memory), then ReadyBoost cache and finally the hard-disk drive. If the program is already available in System Cache, it is loaded at lighting speeds from the main memory and ReadyBoost cache is not called into action. On my system (i5, 3GB, Win7), much of the activity centers around a little bit of PhotoShop, Corel Draw, a lot of Firefox and Google Chrome. More often than not, I close applications that I am not using anymore (for ex: I shutdown Firefox when working in PhotoShop). Quite often, I close and relaunch the same application within a few minutes. In such cases, the application is already in my System Cache and it relaunches at a speed that makes you think it was never closed in the first place.

2) ReadyBoost configuration seems to be a black-box. Microsoft does not provide meaningful statistics and we are left to interpret a few parameters using System Monitor. You cannot actually determine which applications are in ReadyBoost cache and place/delete files from the Cache.

3) Flash memory is considerably slower when compared to a hard-disk (my Class 6 SD Card does 16 MB/sec at best) while the internal HDD does better than 40MB/sec. On a well defragment hard-disk, application loading is speeded up because the files are placed contiguously based on their frequency of opening and last modified time and the internal cache of the HDD preloads these files and dishes them out to the CPU speedily.

Observe the attached screenshot of all all-day record of ReadyBoost performance on my machine on a typical slow day (click on the image to zoom). The applications that were launched were limited to the regular offenders, yet substantial part of the application loading happened from the HDD and not ReadyBoost.

Why am I even bothering to lock up my 8GB SD Card in this venture? Why don’t I load it into my DSLR instead and leave the HDD for an all-night defragmentation session?

SD Cards suitable for Windows ReadyBoost

  • Kingston 8 GB Class 4: [amazonproduct=B00200K1SY]
  • SanDisk 8GB SDHC Card Class 4: [amazonproduct=B004CZ0H1Q]
  • AmazonBasics 8 GB Class 4: [amazonproduct=B004Q3R9B0]
  • Transcend 8 GB Class 10: [amazonproduct=B003VNKNEG]
  • PNY 8 GB Class 4: [amazonproduct=B000P5XLOW]
  • Lexar Professional Series 8 GB 133x Class 6: [amazonproduct=B0013TVAB0]
  • Fujifilm 4 GB Class 6: [amazonproduct=B001HL0G5K]
  • Dane-Elec 8 GB Class 4: [amazonproduct=B000VLIYGA]
  • Patriot LX Series 8 GB Class 10: [amazonproduct=B002TA7VO2]
  • HP 16 GB Class 4: [amazonproduct=B001JEOQSI]

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