Sunday, April 29, 2007

Vista ReadyBoost (or: a Tale of Two Techies)

So Saturday while I was taking care of some shopping errands, I decided to look into picking up some memory to use for Vista's ReadyBoost feature.

(More on why I wanted that in another post...but it's even better than you can guess....)

Now I already knew that all when it comes to ReadyBoost, all memory is not created equal and the thought of buying some and finding out it didn't work wasn't appealing. The memory I had been looking at in the store still hadn't began being marked as "ReadyBoost" compatible so I was on my own.

First Techie Try

I was in a particular GoodPurchase big box tech store and having nothing better to do, decided to ask a black and white clad young man behind a counter if he could assist me.

"I'm looking for some memory for a laptop and want to make sure it is ReadyBoost compatible. What can you recommend?"

Simple question right? For a tech support geek? You would think.

So he asked what model of laptop I had.

Deciding not to reveal my secret identity as a desktop and network support tech, and being a nice lazy Saturday, I decided to go with the flow.

I told him there was one very similar in the store.

We walked over there and he immediately began to explain to me that unless I was 100% that was the exact same model he couldn't tell me. Each model had different specs and while the laptop shells looked similar, they would often have different insides.

"You mean system boards impact ReadyBoost memory?" I asked in as noobie a voice as I could muster without laughing.

He nodded and explained that system boards have different specs which will determine the particular kind of memory I need to get. Without that information, he couldn't make a good recommendation.

He suggested that I log onto the Crucial memory website and check there.

I thanked him for his time and he wandered off.

Umm. 100% wrong here.

ReadyBoost

ReadyBoost is a feature of Windows Vista that allows USB or SD removable media memory to be used as caching space by the Windows Vista memory manager system "...via a technique called SuperFetch -- part of Windows Vista's intelligent heuristic memory management system."

It has nothing (well not much at all) to do with the physical systemboard and system RAM.

It does have everything to do with the memory device's speeds for random read/write activity.

That's why it is important to know if a memory device meets the needed requirements before you buy...it may turn out that while the memory stick looks good or is pretty fast, it isn't fast enough to work for ReadyBoost. Rejected!

Here are some very good posts on Vista's ReadyBoost worth doing your homework with:

So to Recap on Vista's ReadyBoost

  • The USB stick must be at least USB 2.0

  • Some SD/CF media will also work if it meets the specs.

  • External SD media readers will (probably) not work.

  • External hard-drive based media won't (to my understanding) work.

  • Internal hardware SD media readers will (probably) work. (make sure your drivers are up to date)

  • The device minimum spec for ReadyBoost appears to be 2.5MB/s read & 1.75 MB/s write, while Microsoft’s ReadyBoost usage guidelines say that for a device to be listed as Enhanced for ReadyBoost it must do around double that - 5MB/s read & 3MB/s write (based on 4k random reads and 512k random writes). reference link

  • The memory media has to have between 256M-4GB of space. Anything more or less won't do.

  • Only one ReadyBoost device per machine.

(That's all at least the best I can tell.)

Second Techie Try

So I returned home after the fun and frustration of techie one and decided to attempt to do some research as to a brand/model of SD or USB media that would be sure to work.

I found some articles that listed some ReadyBoost memory devices (linked above) but nothing that was a "hit out of the park" with certainty when I went to the store. (I can only hope and expect as Vista gets more common, more removable memory manufacturers will begin to clearly label their products as "ReadyBoost Ready" to help confused consumers.)

For my second attempt I went back out and stopped by an Office Supply store that I knew carried a nice variety of USB drives.

Just my luck, there was a young salesguy right there helping another guy with a PSU. When he got done he saw me looking in the USB case and asked if I needed help.

"I'm looking for a USB drive that I can be sure is compatible with Vista's ReadyBoost. Do you have anything that I can be sure will work when I get home and plug it in?" I asked.

"Sure. We have several kinds. In fact I use one myself. Works great. The Ativa brand. It's on sale."

I spotted it in the case.

"We have the 1GB on sale."

I saw a 2GB one as well. "I think I'll try the 2GB one."

"That's the same size I use. I love it," he said smiling.

He pulled it from the case and I bought it for about $50.

I got home, cut it out of the plastic wrap and plugged it in.

Vista likey! A quick confirmation for configuration and I was in business.

Hurray for Techie Two!

No trying to impress me with geekspeek. Ask and you shall receive.

Ready and Boosted!

So now I'm using a 2GB ReadyBoost share and loving it.

And from what I understand...the longer I use it, the smarter Vista will get and performance should get even better.

How sweet is that?

Just remember, do your homework on ReadyBoost and if you aren't getting a good answer when asking the Techies...move on.

And why was I looking for a stick of memory to use with ReadyBoost?

Well...you'll just have to wait a bit longer for that story.

--Claus

4 comments:

Dwight Silverman said...

Yes, ReadyBoost pretty much rocks.

As an experiment, I yanked my USB flash drive out the other day and ran without it. The difference was noticeable, but interestingly, not at first. I think that's because of the fact that ReadyBoost is a copy of some data stored in the virtual memory, and if it's not in ReadyBoost, it will be moved into regular RAM. But as you open and close more programs, more of it moves back to the hard drive, and performance degrades somewhat. I plugged the USB drive back in, and it sped up again.

Tim said...

Well, I'm not so sure that the motherboard doesn't have some impact on Readyboost.

I've been running Readyboost ever since RC1. First, I used a Crucial 1gb drive. I had continuing problems with the cache disappearing, or not being created upon reboot or coming out of sleep mode. The problem persisted in RC2. Hoping that it was a yet-to- be-fixed bug, I tried it again on the release version (Vista Business), this time with a different drive (a 1gb ATP Petito - one of the fastest of flash drives). The problem persists, and actually appears to be getting worse. I would estimate that at least 75% of the time, the Readyboost cache is not there. If I go into Properties:Readyboost for the drive, "Use this Device" is checked, but something is preventing it from working.

I reported this issue to Microsoft at the RC2 stage, but obviously it's still a problem. Since I've tried it with 2 different flash drives, I can only assume that there is some motherboard issue that's preventing creation of the cache.

I wonder how many people this might be happening to that don't know it.

Dwight Silverman said...

Tim:

That could be a faulty USB port; could be faulty USB controller on the motherboard; MIGHT be the motherboard itself, I doubt it. Have you tried it in a different USB port?

Claus said...

Hi Gentlemen!

My mention of the motherboard and ReadyBoost was that techie #1 was associating it with system RAM.

Some of those links I provided had some extensively long comment threads. There were some users who reported similar problems with missing ReadyBoost cache like Tim says.

I also saw mention that not having updated or correct drivers for the USB controllers/etc. could impact performance. I'm not sure what hardware you are using Tim, maybe Vista's drivers are not fully optimized. Who knows.

The real challenge for consumers is trying to make heads or tails of this with the USB/SD offerings in the store. As I pointed out and experienced, most all drives have "cryptic" performance ratings that the average consumer may not be able to decipher. And, depending on how the memory device manufacturer tests and rates the device, "real" performance may not be as accurate....especially when it comes to ReadyBoost...and not just moving daily files on/off the device for storage.

I also understand that some USB memory makers may put smaller "faster" memory up front and slower, cheaper memory behind it to give fast initial performance, that drops over extended usage.

I'd really like Microsoft to offer "Certified for ReadyBoost" symbols to manufactures who meet specific guidelines. Then everyone wins; consumers can see if the USB device is "ReadyBoost" or "Enhanced ReadyBoost" certified. And manufactures can get a new sales angle with a Vista Orb logo on their package.

I was fortunate to be "geeky" enough to know what I was looking for and just any memory wouldn't do.

Getting it right made the Vista experience that much more positive for me. I could understand it could just have easily gone the opposite direction if I hadn't known these things and just head some loose conversation, went to the store, grabbed the cheapest USB stick I could find, plugged it in, then have it not work.

I'd most likely be blaming Microsoft and Vista and not the media.

I hope to get to posting WHY I felt I needed ReadyBoost soon. Maybe later tonight...