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The Problem with RAM…

Friday, March 30th, 2012 by | Filed Under: File & Disk Management, Hardware & Peripherals

Peter from Winnipeg, writes:

Is there a way to copy a file or program into RAM so it would open and run faster?  I used to be able to do it in DOS (before Windows ) and in Windows 95 and programs opened crazy super fast.  Im now running Windows 7 with 24Gb ram and 16Tb of hard drive but cant figure out if it can be done here. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Hi, Peter.

Your statement that you used to save files or programs onto a RAM chip caused me to go out and search the Internet for a bit.  I would be very interested in knowing how you did that, unless you never turned your computer off.  The reason that I say that is because RAM is what you call “volatile” memory, which means that, as soon as electricity stops flowing to it, all of the information currently stored on the RAM chip vanishes.  Now, when Windows 95 was the operating system of choice was about the same time that you could begin loading programs from the disc onto your hard drive, (which caused them to run much more quickly than they would from the disc).  Is it possible that this is what you’re remembering? 

As far as the DOS days go, the only thing that I can think of is a trick that we used to do in high school.  I know that I’m dating myself by saying this, but I was in seventh grade when Apple IIe computers hit the schools.  These old units had no hard drive, two 5 1/4″ floppy drives, and, if I remember correctly, a blazing 16 megabytes of RAM.  I used to play games on these things on my lunch hour.  If you were playing a game with low-quality graphics or simply text (like Zork) at the time, it would run fine from the disc.  But if you wanted to play a game with what we considered high-quality graphics, like Space Invaders or (a favorite among middle-school boys) Strip Poker, you WOULD transfer the program to the computer’s RAM so that it would run more quickly and smoothly.  Again, though, as soon as you turned the computer off, the program would disappear from RAM.  And trust me, if you were playing Strip Poker, you WANTED to remember to turn the computer off, because if you didn’t, the next time that the librarian booted up any kind of graphics, the screen would flash with the last thing that was on it – in this case a very pixelated drawing of a half-naked woman.  That would get you banned from the computers, fast.

There is a faster alternative to running programs from a hard drive, however, and that’s using a solid-state drive.

The image above shows a garden-variety platter hard drive on the left and a solid state drive, which uses the same non-volatile flash memory as your USB thumb drive, on the right.  The advantage to these are that they allow your programs to run much faster, Windows to load faster, and they have a lower failure rate and longer life than hard drives.  The downside is the cost.  64 gigs of storage in a solid state drive will cost you about a hundred bucks, while if you want 500 gigs of storage (pretty standard for a modern computer) it will set you back five or six hundred. 

I hope that this helps, and if you remember how you stored programs to RAM in Windows 95, please drop it in comments.  I’d love to read it.

~ Randal Schaffer

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5 Responses to “The Problem with RAM…”

  1. John Pritchard says:

    In DOS, you could create a virtual drive to load the program on (in RAM) to get the speed needed to run the program with out the timeouts for the drive to seek. You were also able to do this in Windows 3.11 and later using programs to do so on Windows 95. It was just a matter of allocating a few meg of Ram space to be used for the virtual disk and copying the program to it. True it was volatile memory but it was the only way to speed a program at the time. In the speed of the modern processors with high amounts of memory this option is really not needed.

  2. Neil Ragone says:

    What John is talking is called creating a RAM Drive. Back when you used a Config.sys file to lot drivers and such at bootup, there was a command you could put in there to create a RAM drive, that is take part of your computers memory and configure it to emulate a hard drive. When you ran Windows Explorer or Windows manager it would show up like a drive, usually “D” if you had only one hard drive. If you were in DOS mode, you just typed D: at the DOS prompt to switch to it. You could install a program to it in the same way you would install it to a hard drive,and as you said, when the computer was turned off, the drive was gone.

  3. randal says:

    Thanks for your comments, Neil and John. I was interpreting Peter’s question as being a way that you could do this so that the program could always run faster. It didn’t occur to me that he might be asking for a session by session basis. Great catch on that.


  4. Matthew says:

    The program was called RAMDisk, and it first appeared with DOS 2.0. It was a device file that was loaded in the autoexec.bat or config.sys (anybody here remember those?) and would configure a chunk of RAM to act as a virtual fixed drive. I used to have one set up and would copy my Wing Commander executables to it to make the game really fly.

  5. Matthew says:

    There’s a Microsoft KB about it, if anyone’s interested:

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