Boost Windows Vista system performance with ReadyBoost

Summary:Windows Vista has a new feature that's designed to give users a quick, simple and cheap way to boost the performance of their Vista-powered PC - it's called ReadyBoost. But what is ReadyBoost? How does it work and how effective is it? Let's take a look.

Windows Vista has a new feature that's designed to give users a quick, simple and cheap way to boost the performance of their Vista-powered PC - it's called ReadyBoost.  But what is ReadyBoost?  How does it work and how effective is it?  Let's take a Does ReadyBoost work? In a word, yes.look.

What is ReadyBoost?

ReadyBoost is Windows Vista feature that allows the user to plug a USB flash memory device into a USB 2.0 port on the PC and use it as a cache or virtual memory.  The advantage being that it is much faster to cache to the USB drive than caching to your hard disk, speeding up your system and enhancing overall performance.  Acting as a fast store for frequently accessed data, the average random 4K read from a flash device is about ten times faster than accessing the same information from the hard drive.


What do you need to use ReadyBoost?

OK, so what are the requirements for ReadyBoost?  To make use of ReadyBoost you'll need:

  • Windows Vista
  • PC with a free USB 2.0 port
  • A USB flash device which is:
    - Between 250MB and 4GB in size
    - The device must be capable of 2.5MB/sec throughput for 4K random reads and 1.75MB/sec for random writes

It's important to note that not all flash devices will work with ReadyBoost.  First off, the device must be capable of 2.5MB/sec throughput for 4K random reads and 1.75MB/sec for random writes.  A device may be marketed as 12MB/sec or x133 speed but beware this could be a measure of of the device's sequential read performance instead of random read performance.  Also, I've seen plenty of USB flash drives that contain flash memory chips that aren't all the same speed.  These are useless for ReadyBoost. 

USB flash drive that uses mixed speed memory

Example of a USB flash drive that uses mixed speed memory

SanDisk Cruzer Titanium
On top of that, while ReadyBoost can use SD and CF cards and cache, not all external card readers are supported.  This means you might have to go out and buy a suitable USB flash device for the job.  For this test I'm using my brand new and super-sweet 2GB SanDisk Cruzer Titanium USB flash drive.

Is there a security risk using ReadyBoost?

Microsoft use AES-128 to encrypt all data that's written to the cache, so the chances of data leakage are small.

Using ReadyBoost

So, you have everything you need, how do you make use of ReadyBoost?  Simple:


  • Plug the drive into a free USB 2.0 port
  • Fire up Windows Explorer and find the drive
  • Right click and select Properties
    ReadyBoost

  • Click on the ReadyBoost tab
    ReadyBoost

  • Select Use this device.  Here you can also set how much space ReadyBoost should reserve for the cache - the most space you reserve, the faster things go.
    ReadyBoost
  • Click OK.

  • That's all there is to it!  ReadyBoost is working.  You can conform this by looking at the contents of the drive through Windows Explorer.  If it's working you'll see the ReadyBoost file (which as the .sfcache extension).

    ReadyBoost

    Note that you can only have one active ReadyBoost drive per system.

    Disabling ReadyBoost

    There are two ways that you can disable ReadyBoost.  First, you can just disconnect the drive from the system.  This won't cause any system instabilities or data loss because the flash drive is not used as an exclusive data store, only as a high-speed cache, so the only thing you’ll notice if you remove the drive is a drop in  performance.  (The only drawback to this is that the ReadyBoost cache file will remain on the drive and take up storage space until you deleted it manually.)

    The best way to disable ReadyBoost is to shut it down properly.

    • Fire up Windows Explorer and find the drive
    • Right click and select Properties
    • Click on the ReadyBoost tab
    • Select Do not use this device.
    • Click OK.

    This deletes the cache file for you, once again freeing up space on your flash drive.

    Does ReadyBoost work?

    In a word, yes. 

    How much of an effect you see depends on how much your system is struggling at present.  The more RAM you have the less you'll need it, but even with 4GB of RAM I still see a difference when running multiple Office apps with large documents open or doing heavy Photoshop work.  If you have a PC with 512MB of RAM then you're going to see a great deal of improvement by popping a USB flash drive into a free USB port and switching on ReadyBoost.  OK, if you want permanent improvement, then spend that money on more RAM rather than a USB key, but if you don't want to upgrade your PC (or you can't because you've hit a wall) then ReadyBoost is a good alternative. 

    It's also a good option for notebook users who want to boost the speed of their systems - a 2GB USB drive could give you 1GB of storage and 1GB for ReadyBoost.

    Overall, ReadyBoost is a great feature that many people will find very useful indeed!

    Topics: Hardware

    About

    Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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