How would you like a faster and more reliable PC for free? Of course you would. It sounds too good to be true, but there is a way of speeding up the computer that will cost you nothing at all. The trick is to use a RAM disk. It's exactly what it sounds like: using your computer's memory as a hard drive.
Whether you have a PC with a traditional hard drive (HDD) or one with a solid state drive (SSD), you can benefit from a RAM disk, although for completely different reasons.
A hard disk uses a mechanical arm to read and write files on the magnetic coating of a rapidly spinning disk. Although modern drives are much faster than they used to be, this is still quite a slow process compared to reading and writing to the computer’s memory.
That’s why software isn’t run directly from the disk. Instead, it's transferred into memory (RAM), and run there. RAM is much, much faster, but it's erased when the PC is switched off, which is why programs and files are stored on a disk drive.
If a PC has a lot of memory, and 4, 6 or even 8GB is common today, then part of it can be used as a disk drive. All you need is a free utility such as Dataram RAMDisk, and you can create a disk drive in RAM that appears to Windows just like a real disk drive, only it'll be much faster.
In the tutorial we show how to create a 1GB RAM disk on a 4GB PC. Bigger disks are possible if you have more memory.
One use for a RAM disk is to store temporary files. Firefox and Internet Explorer create lots of them when you browse the web and, by using a super-fast RAM disk instead of a slow HDD, browsing will be that little bit faster. It's also possible to store software on a RAM disk and it will load much faster than from an HDD.
Portable apps, software designed to run from USB memory sticks, are ideal for this. There are many portable apps including LibreOffice, Chrome, Firefox, and others. See our guide to using portable apps.
SSDs are 10 or even 20 times faster than HDDs and are a great way to boost your PC's performance. However, eventually they wear out because they can only be written to a certain number of times. By using a RAM disk the SSD is used less and so its life will be extended, increasing its reliability.
How to set up a RAM disk
1. Go to Dataram's website and download RAMDisk. There are paid-for versions, but for this tutorial all you need is the freeware one. Open your downloads folder afterwards and run the Dataram_RAMDisk program. Installation is straightforward.
2. Go to the Start menu or Start screen and find the Dataram RAMDisk Configuration Utility. This is where you set the size and other options. Enter the size you want in megabytes, leaving at least 2,000Mb for Windows. Choose the FAT32 Partition.
3. Select the Load/Save tab and tick Save Disk Image on Shutdown. Click Start RAMDisk and click through the messages that appear. Wait a minute and click Stop RAMDisk. Tick Load Disk Image at Startup and it’s ready to use.
4. Start the RAMDisk and an Explorer window opens showing the contents. At first it is empty, but just use it in the usual way to store whatever files you want. The contents are saved when quitting and reloaded on startup.
5. Now we can set up Firefox to use the RAM disk. Launch the browser and then enter about:config into the address box. Click through any warning and all Firefox’s settings are displayed. Right click anywhere in them and select New, String Value.
6. Enter browser.cache.disk.parent_directory for the name and you are prompted to enter the value. This should be the drive letter that RAMDisk uses on your computer - the one you saw in in Explorer in step 4.
7. Quit Firefox after adding the setting and from now on it will use the RAMDisk every time it is started, running a little faster. To stop it, enter about:config again, right click the value you created and select Reset.
8. It is even easier with Internet Explorer. Click the gear icon and select Internet Options. Click Settings under Browsing history. Click Move Folder and then simply select the RAMDisk or the folder to use on the RAMDisk.
9. Some programs are available as portable versions that can be installed anywhere, such as a USB flash memory drive. You could put them on the RAM disk so they run faster. You'll find a useful collection from portableapps.com.