ReadyBoost = nope?

1 06 2009

There’s a lot of press about Windows 7 these days, and while I’m looking forward to it, I thought I would share my experiences with a feature in Windows Vista that is also in Win7.

Back in its early beta phases, we were introduced to an interesting and promising feature called “ReadyBoost”.  It seemed like a great idea for IT departments and home users everywhere.

Simply put: you may eek out a bit more performance from your existing hardware by just plugging in a USB drive.

This is all due to the fact that flash memory access on the USB stick is faster than disk access to a swap file.  Vista uses that extra space to swap in chunks of information and help your forestall the inevitable memory upgrade you’ve been pondering for the past year.

One of the cool things about ReadyBoost is that you can unplug the USB stick at any time and not compromise the system’s stability.  Vista keeps track of everything so that a sudden disconnect doesn’t result in data or functionality loss.  That’s a slick bit of engineering that I have tapped into accidentally many many times.

Trouble in paradise

As the betas rolled onward to release I started noticing that my ReadyBoost experience wasn’t quite as boosty.  Through a lot of trial and error I found a few things that might help any potential user of this feature.

ReadyBoost can still help some hardware situations, but consider the following:

  • If you already have 1GB of RAM, you probably won’t see a big difference
  • If you suspend and resume frequently, you will become sad
  • Get good hardware and drivers for the stick and hub – USB hardware quality varies

I can’t emphasize the last point well enough.  If you have generic hardware with poor driver support, you should just get some more RAM.  Of course, laptop hardware is totally dependent on the manufacturer’s embrace of Vista’s driver model.

Why you might not be so ready to boost

There are (at least) three variables in play, especially on portable machines, that will dramatically affect your experience.

  1. USB file setup for ReadyBoost is CPU intensive.
  2. The state of your ReadyBoost cache is unknown to Vista at startup and on resume from standby or hibernation.
  3. ReadyBoost cache sizes influence the benefit of the technology.

Here’s how it plays out:

If you choose a significant cache size (say more than 1GB), Vista needs to create that cache file and then fill it with its pertinent cache information.  This operation can take a while (even at 60MB/s, sometimes 5-10 minutes).  During this operation, CPU usage will be very high.

So, for the first few minutes after boot or resume from standby, your notebook will be unresponsive and the CPU fan will be working overtime.  While this is happening, your machine is chewing through valuable battery capacity.  Also, you’ll experience a burning sensation on your lap.

So consider how you use your computer to see if the benefit balances the power-on characteristics of your machine (quantify how much time it takes to start vs. how much time you save in routine tasks with ReadyBoost enabled using a stopwatch).

Observe it yourself

I validated this on several different machines (both notebook and desktop machines) in various combinations of hardware and USB drives.  I saw the same behavior using an Extreme III SD card (it’s still a USB device).

You can assess the effect of this yourself by opening the Resource Monitor in Vista.

Click the CPU heading and you’ll see a “svchost.exe” process near 100%.  Then click Disk and sort by “Writes B/min”.  You’ll see the ReadyBoost.cache file at the top of the stack until Vista is done making the cache.  When CPU use and disk writes go back to normal, your ReadyBoost is done.

Recommendation

Knowing all this, is there a way to use ReadyBoost effectively?  Yes.  Assuming it’s worthwhile, try this approach:

On a desktop machine, turn it on and go get a beverage for 10 minutes.  If your Media Center is waking up to record something, don’t attempt any other operations for a while.

If you’re using ReadyBoost on a laptop on battery power, take advantage of the ReadyBoost unplugging feature and remove that USB stick prior to or during startup.  You’ll get some more battery life and have a more responsive machine sooner after resume.

When you’re back on AC power, plug the USB stick in again and wait for it to come to steady state (just listen to the fan in your laptop).  Once that’s done, unplug the power supply and retain that ReadyBoost advantage.

I think ReadyBoost is a really interesting technology that hasn’t been designed from a user’s perspective in some areas.  A more thoughtful startup scenario that builds the cache gradually should be considered.

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3 responses

2 06 2009
Brian

Very useful and very funny! Thanks!

2 06 2009
bri

Hey, Bing lead me here. Awesome.

Oh, nice write-up. Thanks.

28 09 2009
copper

as of today,28 september 2009,on windows7,i cannot have both,HIBERNATION
AND READYBOOST.with readyboost,hibernation is not avaible.

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