Hard Drive vs RAM Drive Speed Comparisons. RAMDisk introduced!

Andrew LeniartBlogger, Journalist, IT Professional, Technical Writer, Qualified Editor
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This article shows how to use a free utility called 'Parkdale' to easily test the performance and benchmark any Hard Drive(s) installed in your computer. We also look at RAM Disks and their speed comparisons.

Pre-Ramble


The main types of Hard Drives found in your average "run of the mill" computer today are SATA, SSD and to a much lesser extent now, IDE. By run of the mill, I'm talking about branded computer desktops like Dell and HP, or pre-built no-name IBM Clones that you might purchase from any computer store. IDE drives, though still available and used in some builds due to their cheap prices, are pretty much defunct today.


Let's take a brief look at a "basic" definition and comparison of these three Hard Drive technologies.


IDE Drive


  • IDE stands for "Integrated Drive Electronics"
  • IDE drives have movable parts, namely Spinning platters that data is stored on and mechanical drive heads
  • IDE Cables can be a maximum of only 40cm in length
  • IDE drives can not be hot swapped - Removed or installed when the computer is running, though this is mostly only useful on server builds


SATA Drive


  • SATA stands for "Serial Advanced Detection Technology"
  • SATA drives also have moving parts, not unlike the older IDE counterpart
  • SATA cables are much thinner (require less pins) than IDE drive cables and can be up to 1 metre in length
  • SATA drives can be hot swapped - Useful in Server scenarios where storage may need to be added or removed without having to shut the operating system down


SSD Drive


  • SSD stands for "Solid State Drive"
  • SSD drives have no movable parts. They are not dissimilar to a thumb drive.
  • SSD cables are of the same 7 pin type as SATA cables and can also be up to 1 metre in length
  • SSD drives can theoretically also be hot swapped, though I've personally yet to see a configuration that included this ability. Probably due to their high purchase cost when compared to SATA drives.


So they're the three most common type of Drives that are found in most computers today. There are others, like SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) to name just one, but going into them is beyond the scope of this article's purpose.


A technology I will be touching on however is a RAM Disk Drive.  An emulated Hard Drive created in your "Random Access Memory" space where installations can be made and not lost.  Highly useful if you are fortunate enough to have tons of RAM in your system like me.  More on that later on..


How fast are my drives?


There's a huge difference when it comes to discussing theoretical speeds of a drive, as opposed to actual speed performances that you can realistically expect to get. A lot depends on your mainboard capabilities and configuration, as well as other hardware that's installed in your computer. So the best way is to test the performance of "your" installed drives is to use a speed testing utility.


Enter an excellent and freely downloadable utility named Parkdale which eliminates theoretical speeds and instead provides actual speed performance reports on your Hard Drives for you.


Speed performance measurements include QuickAccess, FileAccess and BlockAccess.  Parkdale measures the actual sequential read and write speed performance and of all your Hard Disks.  


Random QD32 read/write speeds are also measured, however these tests can be skipped by simply holding down your Ctrl key when clicking the programs "Start" button.


The reason you might want to skip the QD32 tests is that they're not particularly useful for real life scenarios and just take additional time to run. QD stands for "Queue Depth" so the software also measures "separate thread" transfer speeds. Information not of much use for our purposes. I only include the results that I got below for the sake of completeness.  More in depth info on this measurement can be gleaned from this Wikipedia article.


Parkdale will also report on the speeds that you're getting with your CD-ROM drive.  


Links to grab your own free copy of this program are included below.


Parkdale is also standalone and fully portable software. It does not need installation. Simply extract it from the downloaded Zip file and double click the extracted "Parkdale.exe" to run it. Handy if you want to carry it around with you on a USB stick.



Some Sample Tests


Tests were conducted in the following order:


  1. On a 3.0 TB Seagate External SATA USB 3.0 Drive
  2. On a 3.0 TB Seagate Internal SATA Drive
  3. On a 850 GB Samsung SSD 850 PRO System Drive
  4. On a 4.0 GB Emulated RAMDisk Drive


1. The first test conducted was on what I expected to be one of the the slowest drives attached to my system. A 3TB Seagate SATA drive connected to my computer via a USB 3.0 port.



As expected, the results were pretty ordinary and nothing to write home about.



2. Next we test the exact same drive, only this time, it's physically installed to my computer's mainboard with a SATA cable..



Now that was a bit of a surprising result. Though it out performed the USB attached external drive, the margin of speed increase isn't anywhere near as much as I might have expected it to be.


3. Let's compare the last two results by running the same tests on my Samsung SSD System Drive..



As we would expect, now we're starting to get some respectable speeds. But take a look at the Random QD32 tests though. Interesting!


4. The final test was on a simulated disk drive created with RAMDisk software. It is essentially a Hard Drive in my Volatile Random Access Memory space.



Now we're talking! Check out those Read / Write speeds :)  


So why is that drive so fast?  Because it's not a real hard drive in the physical sense.  It was created (or emulated) with software.  Here's how Piriform's Speccy Software sees the drive: "3GB Dataram, Inc. RAMDiskVE (RAM Disk)"


I have 20GB of Dual-Channel DDR3 Memory installed in this machine, running at 665Mhz. With that much RAM to play with, I can easily spare 4GB (or even 8GB) for a RAM Disk Drive.  I can install and run software applications in that drive at speeds that just aren't possible with a physical drive.  But you don't need to go crazy on RAM like I have to benefit from this sort of technology. Even with the standard 4GB found in most computers today, you can still quite easily have a 1GB RAM Drive for occasional use and take advantage of the huge speed benefits.


Introducing RAMDisk


RAMDisk by developers DataRam is free for personal use. The free version only allows for RAMDisks up to 1GB in size to be created, but that's still plenty for some games or other software applications that you want to enjoy running at super high speeds. Or consider the benefits of redirecting your systems %temp% folders to your RAM Drive and save a ton of daily wear and tear on your SSD drive. If your system is getting a bit on the old side, but you have plenty of unused ram available, this could give your computer a seriously noticeable performance boost.


Installing RAMDisk


1. Download RAMDisk and save the installation file to your download folder just like any other download

2. Double click the Dataram_RAMDisk_x_x_x_RC36.msi file to begin the installation

3. Read and Accept the License Agreement and click the Install button

4. Click the Finish button to exit the RAMDisk setup Wizard - Leave "Launch RAMdisk after installation" ticked to begin using the new software immediately.


Creating your First Ram Disk


In the following example, I'll be showing you how to create a Volatile RAM disk so you have something to play around with until you get used to using a RAM drive. One that will not retain information if your computer crashes or if you restart Windows.


If you didn't leave the "Launch RAMdisk after installation" option ticked when you finished the install, just click the RAMDisk Configuration Utility from your Windows Programs menu. The following utility windows will pop up..



1. Click the drop down button that has "load a save image" written on it and select "create a new unformatted disk"


2. The utility defaults to suggesting a 40 Megabyte Ram Drive after installing so you have something to play around with, but you're not going to be able to do too much with that size. Change it to something higher, like..


  • 256 to create a 1/4 of a Gigabyte Ram Drive
  • 512 to create a 1/2 of a Gigabyte RAM Drive
  • 1023 to create the maximum free allowed size 1 Gigabyte RAM Drive
  • Or anything in between that you like!


Once you hit the "Start RAMDisk" button above, an unformatted Ram Drive will be created in the size you specified. For this example, I selected to go with creating a 512 MB Ram Drive.


3. You should get the following PopUp - Click the OK button



4. Windows Disk Management utility should also appear automatically. If it doesn't, then open it manually. See below..



5. Click the OK button above to accept an MBR (Master Boot Record) partition style and then scroll down until you find the unformatted Ram Disk entry in Disk Management that you've just created.  See next screen shot.


Note: You can close the Dataram RAMDisk Configuration Utility at this point if you like.



6. Right click the Unallocated Basic Disk entry in Disk Management and Click "New Simple Volume..."



7. The New Simple Volume Wizard opens.  Just click Next >



8. Leave Specify Volume Size at defaults and click Next >



9. Select any desired Drive Letter as shown above, like R for Ramdisk.  I'll leave mine as "J" as it happens to be my next available drive letter.  Click the Next > button when ready to proceed..



10. Defaults are fine here, but you may like to type in a new Volume label: like RAMDISK.  Once happy, click the Next > button.



11. You've now completed all the required steps. Review your selected settings and if happy, click the "Finish" button.



12. If you have AutoPlay enabled, the window above will popup as Windows recognises that a new Hard Drive has been installed.  Click "Open folder to view files" and you're ready to start experimenting with your new turbo speed charged Ram Drive.



Finally, don't forget to close the Disk Management utility shown above by clicking the X in the top right corner.


That's all there is to it !  Start playing around with your new Ram Drive and doing your own speed tests to see just how much quicker such a drive can be.


This has only been a quick introduction to Ram Drives in general. In the future, I will be writing an article and/or Mini Video Tutorials about a variety of useful things you can do with a Ramdisk, such as pointing a browser's temporary files to RAM and save, instead of having them constantly fill your physical hard disk all the time. I'll also go into more details about how to create and use a Ram Drive which will retain information between Windows restarts.


Till the next time...

 



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Andrew LeniartBlogger, Journalist, IT Professional, Technical Writer, Qualified Editor
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IT Professional - Helping others to help themselves. https://andrewleniart.com & https://www.computerhelpzone.com.au/testimonial/

Comments (8)

Andrew LeniartBlogger, Journalist, IT Professional, Technical Writer, Qualified Editor
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Author

Commented:
Hi Jackie, thanks for your contrbution.  Can you clarify why you would not recommend installing RAM Drive on a system SSD ? Thanks..
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Commented:
Modern OS from Windows 7 onwards will disable disk cache and you will not have performance gain on using a RAMDisk.

Besides, the wearing from disk read and write will not have a significant impact to your SSD.

https://www.howtogeek.com/256859/dont-waste-time-optimizing-your-ssd-windows-knows-what-its-doing/

I have changed the HDD to SSD for a number of desktop PC for more than 18 months and they are still running to top speed like Day 1.

Before I changed to SSD, I did use RAMDisk to make Windows 7 ran faster by moving all cached and temporary files to the RAMDisk and my experience shows that the article in the link above is correct.

Besides, unless you are staying with 32 bit MS Windows, you will not have spare RAM for RAMDisk and it is better to let the OS to handle memory management.
Thomas Zucker-ScharffSolution Guide
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Commented:
I found that on my Windows 10 64 bit machine with a 256gb boot SSD (1tb data drive HDD 7200rpm), RAMDisk made a huge difference.  I found the same on my brand new laptop (Lenovo Yoga) with SSD.  I even bought the software.
Ed CovneyRetired

Commented:
Andrew - your article covered most of what needs to be covered but may need a little updating. I'll do that in a video if I can figure out how to in EE today. I would like to comment on Jackie Man's comments which seem to have come in-turn from Linus Sebastian who knows little about Ram Disks and has never (apparently) used one himself.

Jackie, your  "The best practice is NOT to use RAMDisk if you are using SSD for the primary disk of your OS." is not only wrong but terribly misleading. Personally, I would never locate the Ram Disk's image file on the boot drive if it's an SSD, my D-Drive would be OK, but I want to avoid writes to SSDs wherever and whenever possible.

SSDs have a half live - after they reach a milestone of so many terabytes written, they quit - no more writing although you'll be able to read from it for the next 10 years or more. If you allow your Ram Disk to take the punches (writes) for your SSD drives, the SSDs will last longer!

I have a Boot (C:\) and Data (D:\) SSD drives and use 3 year old, used, SATA 1-TB HGST HDD to host the image file. Most would question whether that's wise, but I assure it's best for me and likely for you to.

Most SSDs do not include a DRAM cache, so if you want the through-put advantage of cache, you enable Windows to cache the SSDs to RAM. A small problem does exist in that Windows often forgets to flush it (gets stuck issuing 50,000 clock cycle waits for a write to complete).
Have you ever clicked a quick launch or start icon and nothing happens? Click it again, nothing happens. Click it a 3rd time, you've just clued Windows into "oops I forgot" moment and it clears the cache and opens three instances of what you clicked! Windows doesn't allow me to flush drives manually so . .  I use Mark Russinovich's "sync.exe" from a batch file to flush all three drive, but the HDD doesn't need to - it has 128MB DRAM cache of it's own. My D:\ is an older Intel PCI mount that also has DRAM cache and doesn't allow Windows to cache it.
I should also note that "sync" must be executed off-drive, i.e. you can't flush the drive X is Sync.exe resides on drive x. Another great reason to own a Ram Disk - to host the flusher of all other drives.

I suspect Jackie's problems with the Ram Disk was of her own making, and too little RAM and/or to much set aside for Ram Disk. (I eliminated my pagefile.sys before installing Ram Disk on 16 of my 32 GB of RAM. And if I experience the slow of the century, I'll know I caused it by using not having enough RAM for Windows and the apps I launch.

Now, why do I put my image file on the slowest drive on my system (??) :
Putting it on an SSD, eliminates half of RamDisk's utility. I've tested dozens of scenario's and no matter where it is, if I update anything on my A:\ drive (my RamDisk) - it's driver immediately (<0.25 seconds) starts updating the RamDrive.img file.) When does the updating finish? I can't distinguish a difference using an M.2 NVMe SSD (> 3 GB/sec read and write) and the HGST HDD (~120MB/sec). I realize that may be part of the SSD cache issues, but I just don't create huge files on my A:\ drive. But if I do, as in video transcoding (Handbrake) a blue ray rip mkv file 20=40 GB of an mkv file on F:\ (HDD) to and mp4 file A:\HB - compressed to ~4GB with little loss of quality.

Left - RamDrive drive, center - data drive, right - HDD and Device Manager listing my drives.
Andrew LeniartBlogger, Journalist, IT Professional, Technical Writer, Qualified Editor
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Author of the Year 2019
Distinguished Expert 2020

Author

Commented:
Thanks for your excellent contribution Ed. For the record, I agree with your idea that the use of a RamDrive can be highly beneficial to the longevity of an SSD drive.

Please do let me know when you have created the video you spoke of.

Regards, Andrew

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