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Hardware RAM Drive Alternatives

I have been looking at the possiblility of buying one of Cenatek's RocketDrive PCI RAM-Based hard drives for a while now. The thing that is putting me off is the price. My thinking is that if you assigned thw Windows Page File to this drive the PC would be blazing fast.

With a price of about $3,000 for 4GB, it seems like there has to be a cheaper solution. I can buy 4GB of RAM online for $600-800. So, does anybody know if Cenetek has any competition? Better yet, does anyone know if it is possible to build one of these things at home?

Here is the official RocketDrive web page:
http://www.cenatek.com/product_rocketdrive.cfm

Here is a review of the RocketDrive (pretty awsome benchmarks):
Benchmarks: http://www.cyberwizardpit.net/reviewscrdb.htm
Hardware/Installation: http://www.cyberwizardpit.net/reviewscrda.htm

-- ScribbleMeat
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ScribbleMeat
Asked:
ScribbleMeat
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2 Solutions
 
CallandorCommented:
Maybe you can buy a large capacity USB flash drive and make it bootable?

How to create a bootable USB key
http://www.pcanswers.co.uk/tutorials/default.asp?pagetypeid=2&articleid=34587&subsectionid=606 
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rindiCommented:
I'd look at something in the line of SATA SE, which would probably come close to your rocket drive for a much better price:

http://www.westerndigital.com/en/products/Products.asp?DriveID=65&Language=en
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ScribbleMeatAuthor Commented:
No no no. :-)

Callandor,

The point of doing this would be to have a device that is FASTER than even the fastes hard drive. Flash memory is very slow -- even compared to the slowest hard drives available today. Furthermore, the USB protocol is much slower than IDE or even PCMCIA (PC Cards). So, both the type of RAM as well as the bus type would negate your suggestion.

By the way, the reason Flash RAM is slower than system RAM is that the process required to maintain the data when the RAM has no power to sustain it is also the same process that makes it slower. If it were possible to not give up speed and still keep data in RAM without power, then we would all have instantly booting machines ("instant-on," like Palm Pilots).

-- ScribbleMeat
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ScribbleMeatAuthor Commented:
rindi,

I think you are missing the point. Did you look at the benchmarks? There is no comparison even with the best drive/RAID solution. And while the I/O speeds are amazing, where you find your biggest gain is in the Access Times where it is literally thousands of times faster than any dirve/RAID setup.

PS: Maxtor has a new SATA drive that has 16MB cache, and it is faster than WD Special Edition drives right now.

-- ScribbleMeat
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CallandorCommented:
Ok, see if this article gives you some ideas about setting up your own RAMdrive using system memory: http://www.hardwareanalysis.com/content/topic/7663/
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rindiCommented:
I was thinking of raid too, but then you'd end up with tons of spare GB's, which I'm not sure you want to. And Maxtor is the one product I'd never ever recommend. Until now I've allways had problems with maxtor drives not lasting very long... (on average about 2 or 3 weeks), so it is my guess it will FASTER be "kapput" than the WD SE. :-)

Of course I'd 2nd Cal for a Ramdrive, but there your problem would be that the mainboards usually only have limited RAM capacity.

I just can't find anything like in your link which is cheap...

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ScribbleMeatAuthor Commented:
Yeah, cheap isn't the word on this type of hardware. They always want to use the best RAM, but I think you would see awsome benefits even from slower RAM. I just found Hyperos 2002 which offers an IDE RAM drive (http://www.hyperos2002.com/) but what is the point of doing all this then sticking it on an ATA100 bus? Sure, you will get the seek time boost, but what about throughput. Their benchmarks put the transfer rate at 90 MB per second, while Cenetek's reaches 113 MBps. (Can you imagine this thing on a PCI Express slot?)

Anyway, I agree with the Ramdisk idea being an okay alternative. For one thing the bus speeds are fantastic. Unfortunately, you have chipset limitations there as to how many GB's of RAM you can install.

PS: MaximumPC gave the Maxtor drive I was talking about a 10 out of 10. I know they have had reliablility problems in the past, but they have recently moved to a new fabrication process. I worry about their reliablility too, but I did put one in my machine. Here's hoping!

Maxtor Drive Link:
http://www.newegg.com/OldVersion/app/ViewProductDesc.asp?description=22-140-152&depa=1

Review that proves your WD SE drive is better:
http://www.tomshardware.com/storage/20050418/diamondmax_10-04.html (Oh well, we all get caught by the hype from time to time)

-- ScribbleMeat
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rindiCommented:
I'd also be looking in the direction of either PCI-express or PCI-x, but there don't seem to be many cards for those architectures yet.
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wgarneauCommented:
One cheap method would be to get 4GB of RAM and just turn the paging file off.

wgarneau
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ScribbleMeatAuthor Commented:
I thought about that, but I haven't found any reliable source that recommends turning the page file off to speed things up. Seems like that in the end, you will suffer some performance loss by turning off the paging file.
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wgarneauCommented:
ScribbleMeat,

Turning it off is a bad thing because it puts a cap on how much system memory you have and you can never do ANYTHING that might require more.  It's nice to have paging file capability even if you don't expect to need it...

What I tell people is to increase their RAM to reduce their paging file usage and to increase their paging file 'initial size' to reduce the need to resize the paging file.  In your case I'd probably go with an initial paging file size of 1000 MB and then throw-in your 4GB or RAM.  With that much RAM I'd be surprised if you ever used your paging file, but by leaving your paging file initial size at 1000 MB you would ensure that even if you do, you wouldn't need to resize it.

Contrary to popular opinion, most paging file performance loss isn't because of the seek time, but because Windows likes to keep the paging file as small as possible and consequently is constantly resizing its size.  By manually setting the minimum size beyond what you really need 99% of the time, you all but eliminate paging file resizing and thus eliminate that bottleneck.

I'd say get more RAM, manually set your paging file initial size, keep an eye on things to make sure your paging file isn't getting used more than you can accept (and if it is then get MORE RAM) and that it isn't getting resized (if it is then UP THE INITIAL SIZE).  

wgarneau
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wgarneauCommented:
I should have added that if you don't use the paging file, then the performance of it is a non-issue...
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simkissCommented:
Turning off the page file does not stop Windows from extraordinarily extensive disc usage.  It's a misconception (not speaking of you specifically here).  You'll get a minimal performance boost and you likely will not even notice.  I tried running a no-disc pagefile with 3GB of RAM as the pagefile instead.  You get almost nothing faster because the drives are already fast enough for the function performed by the pagefile (provided you keep your pagefile on a seperate drive--which I would ALWAYS recommend).  

If you want to see Windows work faster, use a minimum of 15K SCSI 320 3ms access drives.  Go for the Cheetah's.  They've never let me down and they're muuuuuuuuuch cheaper than the RocketBoard.  That will blow you away if you've been using IDE or SATA drives.  Everything I touch on my design PC is instant.  I was looking at the Rocketboard 2 years ago too, but I'm glad I didn't get it after learning how it works.  The only way you'll get Windows faster is to load Windows on a RAM board and run Windows in RAM (Which you can't with XP's 4GB limit) or get faster hard drives, I'm afraid.

Longhorn's coming soon :o)
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ScribbleMeatAuthor Commented:
Well, the original question was about an alternative to the Cenatek Rocket Drive, but it seems that this has turned into a discussion of the Page File (which actually might be more interesting than my original question). So, I am going to go ahead and close this question. I will probably go ahead and open up a question about the Paging File and partitioning for it.

While nobody actually answered my original question, wgarneau gave me some insight that changed my purpose for asking it. That is, he showed me that buying a RAM device like this and putting my swap file on it is going the long (and slower) way around just buying more RAM. My original purpose for the Rocket Drive was to speed up my workstation by reducing the paging file access bottleneck. I now see the error of my ways.

Simkiss will get a few points for screwing my head on straight as well. Here I was looking at a $3,000 solution and would be much better served by speeding up my actual Disk IO. Though I would probably go with a SATA Promise RAID 0 setup rather than SCSI -- but that is simply because I hate SCSI since my Mac days. Maybe it is more simple now.

Bottom line on the Hardware RAM drives is this: Any data intensive project could benefit from it in my opinion. For a small but heavily trafficed SQL database, I can't imagine a cheaper or better way to get Google-like performance. But the size limitation would keep it from being useful for any real-world media creation benefits. Sure, I would love to have a 200 GB RAM drive and edit HDTV video on it. But the truth is, with data that fast, I would immediately start getting fed up with even a Dual AMD Opteron setup. While it would be nice to see storage surpass the CPU bottleneck, I am afraid I would go broke soon.


-- ScribbleMeat
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simkissCommented:
the SCSI of today is simple with 3 times faster access compared to ATA and SATA drives (how fast it locates what you need)
 and 50% faster speed compared SATA's 10K or 100% faster than IDE at 7.2K.  RAID will get you more speed but it will be most notable with larger files.  little chunks of data here and there will be no faster unless you get 15,000 rpms with 3ms access time. (geez.. i sound like i'm selling SCSI drives here :o) hehe

Best of luck to you.
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davidis99Commented:
Looking at the Cenetek board, I think you'd be better off maxing out the RAM in your PC, then using software such as

http://www.8ung.at/ramdisk/RAMDisk/ramdiskpro.htm

to setup a ramdisk.  The main issue I see with the cenetek option is that you're limited by the speed of the PCI bus, which operates at either 33 or 66 mhz, depending on the version, while memory in your RAM slots operates at system bus speed (which, if you have a fairly recent PC, could be anywhere from 400-1066 Mhz.)   Even with the overhead from the operating system, this should still be substantially faster than anything running off the PCI bus, even if the capacity is less.  The only advantage of the centek solution over a software solution with system RAM is the ability to power the device so it retains information while the PC is off, where software solutions only work while the PC is in use.
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wgarneauCommented:
I'm glad we were able to help!

I'll look for the new question.  You closed this one at the right time - Paging File posts invariably lead to religious wars.  As long as it is just people arguing about the woes of Windows and the promise of Longhorn things would stay civil, but eventually someone would have mentioned Linux and then it would have turned into a full-blown crusade...

Good luck!!

wgarneau
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