We\’ll have to wait longer for PCI RAMdisks

In case nobody noticed, it’s August. July came and went, and there’s no Gigabyte I-RAM on the market yet.

But there are a few benchmarks out there, and Anandtech has an article that, once you get past the usual rambling and over-the-top introduction, has some useful insights.I was going to say the first problem is the somewhat disappointing speed, but actually, there are two bigger problems:

Availability. Now they’re saying it’ll be out sometime in August. And they’re initially only going to make 1,000 of them.

Price. The original $50 MSRP is out the window; now this thing is going to cost $150.

Can anything else be wrong? Unfortunately, yes. The speed is a bit disappointing. The SATA interface is the bottleneck. The very newest hard drives can come close to saturating the SATA interface for short periods of time, so the RAMdisk doesn’t outperform it by much. If this drive were using an interface with more bandwidth, there wouldn’t be as much problem, but squeezing more bandwidth out of the 33 MHz PCI bus is tough. We’re at the point now where the PCI bus is a much bigger bottleneck than the ISA bus was in 1994. The theoretical limit of the PCI bus is 132 megabytes per second, which isn’t much higher than the sustained throughput of 100 megabytes per second that the I-RAM delivers.

The combination of PCI Express and a faster disk protocol has the potential to resolve this issue, but at the expense of limiting the device’s market even further.

I’m disappointed by the review in a couple of regards, though. First, they compare the I-RAM to the fastest SATA drive available at the time of the review. That’s not necessarily what every would-be purchaser would be using. I believe that an I-RAM used to replace (or in conjunction with) a drive that’s a couple of years old would be a mind-blowing upgrade.

Second, they don’t take fragmentation into account. Enthusiasts are more likely to defragment their hard drives twice a day than everyone else, so fragmentation may not be an issue for them. But my wife, mother, and mother-in-law don’t know what fragmentation is. Well, maybe my wife does because she’s probably overheard me talk about it. The thing about the I-RAM is that it makes seek times irrelevant, so it’s never going to slow down due to fragmentation. Translation: For people who have lives, this thing could be phenomenal.

The review complained constantly about the drive’s capacity. So I’m disappointed that they didn’t test the drive with NTFS compression enabled. While data compression is still taboo, and it increases CPU usage, when you’re out of room it’s your only choice. While its effectiveness is unpredictable, it’s fairly safe to bet compression will get you another gigabyte or two of usable space on a 4-gig model. But just as importantly, under some circumstances, compression can actually increase performance. I want to know if increasing the amount of data you’re flowing over the saturated bus makes up for the increased CPU usage.

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