After discussing how to create a RAM Disk in OS X during a recent episode of The TekRevue Podcast, several readers emailed us to ask about creating a RAM Disk in Windows. Thankfully, the process for Windows is just as easy as it is in OS X. But first, some background.
What is a RAM Disk?
RAM Disks are logical storage volumes created from a computer’s RAM. RAM is the ultrafast storage medium that a computer uses to temporarily store data while in use, dramatically speeding up the overall performance of a system. Because RAM is so fast, the logical drives we can create in RAM operate at several times the speed of even the fastest modern solid state and mechanical hard drives. This means that any task that is traditionally limited by the speed of a computer’s drive, such as muxing large video files or manipulating complex databases, can gain huge performance boosts when run from a RAM Disk. But it’s not quite that simple; there are some key caveats to consider.
First, RAM is volatile, or non-persistent, storage, which means that any data stored in RAM is lost when the RAM loses power. This contrasts with traditional solid state and mechanical hard drives, which are non-volatile, or persistent, means of storage. These storage methods retain the data written to them when the power is lost, such as when the computer shuts down or when there is a power outage. This means that anything you store in a RAM Disk will be lost when you reboot the computer, or if there’s an unexpected loss of power. Therefore, it’s important to make frequent backups of the contents of your RAM Disk, and to always keep in mind that the data on the disk could be lost at any time.
Second, compared to solid state and mechanical hard drives, RAM is relatively expensive and limited. Whereas hard drives can easily reach 4TB in capacity at a price of about $0.03 per gigabyte, the maximum amount of RAM supported by most consumer computers is usually 32 or 64GB, at a much steeper price of around $10 per gigabyte. These limitations, coupled with the fact that you can’t assign all of your system’s RAM to a RAM Disk (you need to leave some left over for the computer to use, after all), means that your logical RAM Disks will be relatively small, likely no larger than 8 to 16GB for most systems. If these limitations are acceptable, however, an incredibly fast drive awaits you.
How Big Should My RAM Disk Be?
As mentioned above, your computer needs RAM to function properly, so you’ll need to choose a RAM Disk size that balances your need for storage with the computer’s need for memory.
In general, it’s wise to leave at least 50 percent of your computer’s RAM free for the system to use. That means that if you have 16GB of total RAM, you’ll want to limit your RAM Disk to a maximum of 8GB. There are some exceptions to this rule, of course. If your planned tasks for the computer aren’t very RAM intensive, such as working with large sequential video and audio files, then you’re probably safe assigning a bit more RAM to the RAM Disk. Further, if you have a very large amount of RAM (say, for example, 64GB), you can make your RAM Disk quite a bit bigger than 32GB and still leave adequate amounts of RAM for your computer (a 52GB RAM Disk and 12GB reserved for system memory, for example).
As you’ll see next, the process of creating and destroying RAM Disks is quick and easy, so feel free to experiment with different sizes to find the balance that suits your workflow and hardware the best.
How to Create a RAM Disk in Windows
There are many software programs and utilities that can create a RAM Disk in Windows, but many of them are paid commercial apps or are missing key features. A powerful and free option we recommend is called ImDisk. Although ImDisk includes many features, such as the ability to mount and manage virtual disks, it also acts as a super simple interface for configuring and creating RAM Disks.
To get started, first download ImDisk and run the installer. By default, the installer will place three icons on your desktop. When it’s done, open the icon that says “RamDisk Configuration.”
ImDisk provides a handy GUI for configuring your RAM Disks. First, select a size for the disk; we’re using 8GB in our example. You can then choose the drive letter to which your RAM Disk will mount, and select which file system you’d like to use. As we mentioned earlier, RAM Disks are wiped out with a power loss or reboot, but you can configure one or more RAM Disks to be automatically created and mounted during the Windows boot process.
On the Advanced Tab, you can give the RAM Disk a drive name, change the cluster size (most users will be fine leaving this at the default setting), and also set up image files to preserve your RAM Disk data. With image files, users can specify a drive or folder that they always want to have in the RAM Disk, and ImDisk will copy that data to the RAM Disk each time it’s created after a reboot or power loss.
Once all of your variables are set, press OK to create the RAM Disk. This process should take just a few seconds, and you’ll see a Properties Window appear when it’s complete. You’ll now find your new logical drive in Windows Explorer, and you can begin to write data to it at incredible speeds. How incredible, you ask? Keep reading for our benchmarks.
RAM Disk Benchmarks
We not only wanted to measure the performance of the RAM Disk, we also wanted to compare it to more common storage technologies. For these tests, we’re comparing our 8GB RAM Disk to an internal SATA III Samsung 830 SSD and a RAID 5 array comprised of three 2TB Western Digital Black hard drives. Our test computer is a 3.5GHz i7 3770K system with 16GB of total memory running at 1866MHz. All tests were performed with the 64-bit edition of CrystalDiskMark running on Windows 8.1.
Those who read our previous article on OS X RAM Disks won’t be surprised to see the results, but those new to the concept will be blown away by the performance of the RAM Disk, especially compared to the traditional storage drives. With peak sequential reads of 6.9 gigabytes per second, the RAM Disk is approximately 1,701 percent faster than our Samsung 830 SSD.
Things get even better with write speeds. The RAM Disk tops 10 gigabytes per second in both sequential and large random operations. For those keeping score at home, that’s a 2,722 percent increase performance.
Once you’re done playing with the RAM Disk, you can delete it by heading back to the ImDisk application and pressing Unmount on the Basic tab. If you have data on the disk, ImDisk will offer to image it for you, so that you can quickly restore it the next time you mount a RAM Disk.
In short, the RAM Disk numbers are a complete game changer when it comes to drive speed, and with the right precautions and expectations, the introduction of a RAM Disk could revolutionize certain drive-dependent workflows.
With a super-simple setup and configuration thanks to the free ImDisk utility, almost anyone can enjoy experimenting with this awesome feature. Just make sure to remember the caveats and never store data on a RAM Disk that you can’t afford to lose.