I got a question today in a roundabout way asking about ramdisks in Windows, specifically, where to find my instructions for loading Win98 into a ramdisk, and how to do the same in XP.
I haven’t thought about any of this kind of stuff for more than two years. It seems like two lifetimes.
The original instructions appeared in my book, Optimizing Windows (now in the half-price bin at Amazon.com), and instructions to use DriveSpace to compress the disk appear here. You can get the freeware xmsdisk utility this trick requires from simtel.
These techniques absolutely do not work with Windows NT4, 2000, or XP. Despite the similar name, Windows NT/2000/XP are very different operating systems than Windows 9x. Believe it or not, they’re much more closely related to IBM’s OS/2 than they are to Windows 98. Since there is no DOS laying underneath it all, there’s no easy way to do the trickery that the bootable ramdisk tricks use. What these two tricks do is literally intercept the boot process, copy Windows into the ramdisk, then continue booting.
There’s a $99 piece of software called SuperSpeed that gives the NT-based operating systems this capability. I haven’t used it. I imagine it works using the same principle, hooking into the boot process and moving stuff around before booting continues.
The downside, no matter what OS you use, is the boot time. XP boots in seconds, and my book talks about the trickery necessary to get 95 and 98 to boot in 30 seconds or less. But any time you’re moving a few hundred megs or–yikes–a gig or two of data off a disk into a ramdisk, the boot process is going to end up taking minutes instead.
Is it worth it? For some people, yes. It’s nice to have applications load instantly. A lot of things aren’t CPU intensive. You spend more time waiting for your productivity apps to load than you do waiting for them to do anything. Web browsing and e-mail are generally more bandwidth- and disk-intensive than they are CPU-intensive (although CSS seems determined to change that).
But a lot of games aren’t especially disk-intensive, with the possible exception of when they’re loading a new level. So loading the flavor-of-the-week FPS game into a ramdisk isn’t going to speed it up very much.
Of course, XP is far, far more stable than 98. Windows 9x’s lack of stability absolutely drives me up the wall, and for that matter, I don’t think 2000 or XP are as stable as they should be. Given the choice between XP or 98 in a ramdisk, I’d go for XP, with or without speedup utilities.
I’ve made my choice. As I write, I’m sitting in front of a laptop running 2000 (it’s VPNed into work so I can keep an eye on tape backup jobs) and a desktop PC running Linux. I have a 400 MHz Celeron with Windows 98 on it, but it’s the last Win9x box I have (I think I had 4 at one point when I was writing the aforementioned book). Sometimes I use it to play Baseball Mogul and Railroad Tycoon. Right now it doesn’t even have a keyboard or monitor connected to it.
I guess in a way it feels like hypocrisy, but I wrote the first couple of chapters of that book with a word processor running in Red Hat Linux 5.2 (much to my editor’s chagrin), so I started down that path a long, long time ago.