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The Problem with RAM…

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