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Software // Enterprise Applications
05:15 PM
David  DeJean
David DeJean

Goosing Windows Vista

Little-known facilities built into Windows Vista let it exploit flash technology to rev system performance.

While Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system appears to be living up to its claims of improved security, it may suffer from one unexpected malady: bipolar disorder. Early reports from Vista users make it sound like they're dealing with two different products: a Good Vista and a Bad Vista. Some users talk about how fast it is, how quickly it boots up, how smoothly it performs; others complain about how much it drags.

The key is that Vista's performance is hardware dependent. Running Vista on a 2-GHz processor with 2 Gbytes of RAM and a 256-Mbyte video card can be a very pleasant experience. But try running Vista on a marginal hardware setup, and it can be an exercise in frustration. Getting good performance out of Vista requires more of everything: more system memory, a faster CPU, more hard-disk space, and much more graphics-processing power.

Of all these, system memory is the most important, because it affects the performance of the others. That's because the graphics subsystem might borrow system memory, which in turn diminishes memory available for caching data and program code pages, which could force the processor to wait ... and wait ... for data to be read off the hard drive.

Vista does what it can to optimize this digital choreography. Caching technology, in particular, has been pushed beyond anything available in previous versions of Windows. A new memory management technology, called SuperFetch, works like a combination of fortune teller and inventory clerk to predict the data the CPU will ask for next and make sure it's on the system memory shelves, where it can be delivered to the CPU fastest.


But software optimization can only do so much. That's why Vista includes technology to support some relatively new hardware products for improving its performance. The name for these functions is "Ready," and it incorporates three technologies:

Hot rod: Vista can use a USB flash drive as a memory cache

Hot rod: Vista can use a USB flash drive as a memory cache
>> ReadyBoost uses flash memory in external devices--USB drives and memory cards, for example--to supplement system memory with a special cache that takes advantage of the quick random read times of flash devices to boost system performance.

>> ReadyDrive takes advantage of new hybrid hard-disk drives (abbreviated H-HHD) that combine conventional rotating disk storage with flash memory. Vista treats the flash and disk as one memory space, so that it can be used for caching frequently needed data, for ReadyBoot data, or as a disk-write cache when the disk is spun down, in order to save battery power.

>> ReadyBoot uses the ReadyBoost services to tackle one particular problem--speeding up the processes of booting the system and recovering from hibernation. It keeps track of the files most often needed when the system boots and builds a temporary cache, sort of a "Boot-Up's Greatest Hits," when the system starts. It can use flash wherever it finds it, in either external flash devices or H-HHDs.

ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive are matched to new kinds of hardware products. In addition to H-HHDs, flash drives labeled "Enhanced for ReadyBoost" are making their way to market, fast flash memory cards popular for digital cameras are finding new uses, and embedded flash memory is even appearing on special "Enhanced for Vista" motherboards.

Of course, there's no substitute for system RAM. But the next best thing, particularly on a PC with minimal system memory (around 512 Mbytes or so), may be as simple as plugging in a ReadyBoost-compatible flash drive.

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