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TECH Q&A

Isa RAM enhancement really just aReadyBoost away?

By Matt Clark, Wheaton, Illinois

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To paraphrase a complaint from the late James Doohan, my computer's giving me all she's got, but Vista's more than she can handle! My system should be able to deal with this version of Windows just fine, but it's just not happening. I'd add more RAM if it were possible, but my slots are all maxed out. I've tried various freeware that promises to keep my RAM working at maximum efficiency, but it's just not enough. Is there anything out there for enhancing the memory I do have until I can get a newer, faster machine?

Expert Bio Picture

Tech Expert Chris Pirillo President, Lockergnome.com

Expert Answer:

Sure, adding physical memory to a sluggish system will almost always be a real performance picker-upper. But what if your RAM slots are already as full as full can be -- or you just can't afford the upgrade right now?

Well, if you're lucky(?) enough to have Windows Vista, it's got a feature called ReadyBoost that you might consider trying. In a nutshell, ReadyBoost allows your system to allocate virtual memory to a USB 2.0 thumb drive -- a sort of RAM enhancement, if you will.

The idea is that a flash drive, having no moving parts, will process that virtual memory more quickly than it would on a spinning, moving hard drive (where virtual memory is traditionally utilized).

Pretty exciting, right?

In my never-ever-ending quest to weed out the too-good-to-be-true from the I-can't-believe-it's-not-a-scam, I had to give this ReadyBoost thing a try. My first test was on a PNY Attache 4.0 GB USB stick (which admittedly only worked after some help from a Lockergnome.com reader), but I got better results from the Apacer HT203 2 GB stick; it turns out that the drive's speed is quite a bit more important than its capacity.

Some say their experience with ReadyBoost has been lackluster, but they're usually power users with more than enough RAM to keep their systems chugging along without much trouble. The people who are going to notice the biggest difference are the people who probably need it the most.

If you've got Vista, you've already got ReadyBoost -- so you might as well give it a try and see if it gives your system a little more get-up-and-go. Even in this humdrum economy, USB drives have become almost as cheap and affordable as ramen noodles (crunchier, though), so buying one (or more) shouldn't set you back too much.

You'll do yourself a favor if you can find a flash drive with a nice balance of both capacity and speed -- keeping in mind that speed will be your first priority. And if you do notice ReadyBoost making a positive difference in your computing life, you might also find this freeware ReadyBoost Monitor helpful.

Want even better news? Windows 7, the next version of Microsoft Windows that's currently in beta testing stages, is being constructed with more effective memory management. I've certainly seen such snappiness in my own experience with 7 so far.

This means the PC you currently own may very well see a speed increase after installing this new operating system...when it ultimately ships. This is not to be confused with "Windows Vista Ultimate Edition," which was about as ultimate as half a Maraschino cherry.

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