Under the Hood: Windows Vista ReadyBoost Report

If you find your Windows Vista machine a little sluggish, it might need a little jolt of power from ReadyBoost.

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Microsoft's new Windows Vista operating system looks great and offers several improvements over Windows XP, but it's also a memory hog. Using Vista with 512MB of memory is like wading through quicksand. Moving up to 1GB of memory feels slightly better, but the new operating system only smoothes out when you give it two or four gigabytes of memory.

Fortunately, Windows Vista offers a ReadyBoost memory expansion feature for those of us who either don't know how to upgrade memory, or simply don't have the money or system capacity for extra memory. ReadyBoost allows users to plug in a spare USB flash drive in lieu of cracking open the computer case and slapping more RAM onto the motherboard. Installation couldn't get any easier than that--and did we mention it's cheap? A 2GB flash drive won't set you back more than $20, but an extra gigabyte of RAM can easily cost $70 or more.

ReadyBoost will take advantage of flash drives as small as 256MB and as large as 4GB. For the time being, you won't gain any benefit from stuffing all your USB slots full of flash memory, as Vista allows for only one ReadyBoost drive.

Installing a ReadyBoost drive is literally as easy as plugging it in. Once you've inserted the flash drive, Vista will test to see if it can use your flash drive for ReadyBoost purposes. Chances are older drives won't pass the test. Numerous flash drive manufacturers have released labeled and pretested drives. If the drive passes the internal tests, Vista will bring up a prompt that asks if you want to use the drive for ReadyBoost. At that time, you can also set how much of the drive you want to dedicate to ReadyBoost.

We tested ReadyBoost partition sizes of 256MB, 512MB, 1GB, and 4GB on our 4GB Super Talent flash drive, which effectively simulated different sized flash drives in our tests. We also checked to see how ReadyBoost affects performance with different quantities of RAM.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, Corsair XMS2 Pro Series Memory (512MBx1, 512MBx2, 1GBx2, 1GBx4), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows Vista. Graphics Cards: GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB, Forceware 100.65. Super Talent 4GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive.

How well does Windows Vista run on your system? Do you think you’re going to upgrade your system memory or possibly get a ReadyBoost drive for better performance?

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, Corsair XMS2 Pro Series Memory (512MBx1, 512MBx2, 1GBx2, 1GBx4), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows Vista. Graphics Cards: GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB, Forceware 100.65. Super Talent 4GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive.

Conclusion


ReadyBoost has a tremendous effect on computers with 512MB of memory. (Of course, using Vista with a paltry 512MB is a fool's errand to begin with.) Moving up to 1GB of memory, the frame rates on some games crept up and the system itself felt much more responsive. When we outfitted our computer with 2GB and even 4GB of memory, ReadyBoost ceased to have a noticeable effect on gaming applications. In some instances, the performance actually decreased, however that only occurred when we had 4GB ReadyBoost drives. Even though the results show that ReadyBoost doesn't affect frame rates for machines with large amounts of RAM, we suggest that you plug the flash drive in for the fringe benefits. The ReadyBoost drive provides an extra level of buffer if you're a heavy multitasker. Which when combined with Vista's SuperFetch algorithms, helps to preload many of the programs you use on a daily basis, making for a very responsive computing experience.

We highly recommend picking up an extra USB flash drive to dedicate to ReadyBoost. Our tests show that you don't need to run out and buy the largest drive on the market. You'll probably get the most bang for your buck in the 1GB range, but with prices so low on USB flash drives, 2GB drives won't hit the wallet too hard, either.

How well does Windows Vista run on your system? Do you think you’re going to upgrade your system memory or possibly get a ReadyBoost drive for better performance?

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