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Using a USB Stick as RAM

RAM, or random access memory is known as volatile memory. Is volatile because the information it stores is not permanent. Every time you boot your pc, the operating system has to copy over from the hard drive to the RAM again - this is because it is volatile. RAM acts much faster than the hard drive, which is why it is used, but is often in a limited supply. Without RAM, the process of clicking an icon on a desktop to the operation of the program opening would take a great deal longer.

So where do USB sticks fit into the equation? Since XP, windows has included an option to use a USB flash drive to act as RAM. This is by no means a substitute - if your computer had below minimum requirements of RAM for any particular application or operating system the addition of a memory stick would not improve things much, it would still slow to a crawl. However, for pushing your system that bit further this technique is useful, particularly when doing more memory intensive operations such as rendering.

This is where ReadyBoost comes in. Windows ReadyBoost provides the most notable performance increases if the following conditions apply.

- The computer has a slow hard disk drive, PCs with a windows experience index subscore lower than 4.0 will see the greatest improvements.

-The flash storage is connected by a fast bus. Typically, USB memory card readers are not sufficiently fast . However, connecting flash memory to an internal memory card reader might provide sufficient performance.

-The flash storage provides fast, random, non-sequential reads. Sequential read speed is less important.

The only real way to truly discover whether or not the USB stick will really improve things is to try it out for yourself. To do so, plug in the drive and format it (this removes all of the data, so ensure it is all backed up elsewhere!). Right click on the pen drive and click on "Properties". Click on the "Ready Boost" tab and then on "Use this device". Choose the maximum space possible to reserve the system speed. Then click OK and Apply.

It is however important to remember that using a flash drive as RAM will kill it extremely quickly. Most USB drives have a limited number of writes, usually adequate for normal use but when used as system cache, which handles thousands of writes in a day, that write limit can be hit pretty soon.
That said, the newer the drive, the more writes it can handle, since SSD technology improves even every six months, and prices are driven down for previously high-end hardware.

To conclude, USB flash drives acting as RAM can only offer so much. They are no true match for just buying an extra stick of RAM or even upgrading your whole system. However, if you need it to hold out just that bit longer, than it certainly cannot hurt to utilise the services available, especially if the flash drive is just lying around unused!

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