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The RAM Drive Resurrection

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 5/25/2011

RAM drives have always been a dream of hardware enthusiasts, and remained exactly that - a dream. Until now. Thanks to a company called ACard, a viable RAM drive solution has emerged for the first time in years. But now that the dream is becoming reality, will the magic be lost?

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    How Quaint

    The RAM drive. If ever there was a museum for hardware ideas that looked good on paper but never quite got off the ground, then the RAM drive would be a centerpiece. The concept is simple. RAM is normally used for short-term memory because of its high bandwidth and low latency. Data can be written to and read from RAM at high speeds, far faster than any rotational drive. These qualities are also good things to have for long term storage - so why not just use RAM as a form of long term storage? What could possibly go wrong?

    More thank you'd think, which is the reason RAM hard drives never really took off, despite the efforts of respected hardware companies like Gigabyte. Cost is one major hurdle. While inexpensive when purchased in the quantities most every day computers use (two to four gigabytes), buying the quantities needed to make a viable RAM disk (at least sixteen gigabytes) is expensive. Even when buying the least expensive RAM possible, the price can easily come in at over $250 dollars. A second major knock against RAM drives is the the volatility of RAM. This doesn't mean that RAM is liable to blow up if shaken. Rather, it means that data stored in RAM is lost if the power supply is cut. Having all of your data, not just what you did since the last autosave, wiped out because the power went off wouldn't be much fun.

    But if you put these problems aside, and simply focus on the sheer speed available from a RAM drive, and then you squint a little - you may just be able to justify laying down a fat wad of green for the ultimate in enthusiast storage. And if a RAM drive does appeal to you, now is not a bad time to buy.

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    Where Did THAT Come From?

    The sudden debut of brand-new RAM drive products from Acard Technology, a smallish (at least compared to, say, Gigabyte) company that sells everything from DVRs to RAID controllers, is as obvious as it is surprising. For decades, mechanical hard drives have been the primary form of storage for nearly all PCs, and theories that this would ever change were met with skepticism. But the sudden arrival of stunningly powerful solid state disks has changed many opinions. Within the span of a year, it has become clear that solid state disks, far from being a product that will never meet more than niche approval, are actually the future of PC storage. Since I can't read the mind of Acard's executives, I can't say with certainty that this made the idea of offering a solid RAM disk appealing, but the timing of ACard's product couldn't be better.

    So what, exactly, can Acard's new RAM drive do? Well, Acard offers two models, the 9010 and the 9010B, which both sit in a 5.25" drive bay drive bay. Then you can add as much as 64GB or 48GB of memory, respectively. With respective retail prices of $399.99 and $249.99 each, plus the price of the RAM you install, these are extremely spendy storage solutions.

    Of the two, the 9010 is the more interesting, because it has two SATA controllers, and this means that the RAM placed on the RAM drive can be split into two separate drives, which then can be tied together in a RAID configuration. The performance of the 9010 is no slouch, either, as it is capable of meeting or exceeding Intel's X-25 solid state hard disk in most situations.

    As a result, the 9010 is, in some benchmarks, the fastest long-term storage solution available on the consumer market. And not by a little bit - compared to competent mechanical drives, the 9010 can be up to ten times faster. Expensive? Yea it is. But you get what you pay for.

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    Here's The Bad News

    Alas, as enamored as I am by Acard's product, it must be said that all of the disadvantages of a RAM drive still exist. Which means, as I've already stated, it is incredibly, monstrously, mind-bendingly expensive. Newegg doesn't even sell the 8GB Ram sticks required for loading up the 9010 with the maximum of 64GB (the 9010 has only 8 RAM slots), but in order to reach 32GB you'd have to spend around $750 dollar on RAM, plus the price of the RAM drive itself, which means a total price of just under $1200 dollars. You can build entire computers for that.

    The volatility of the RAM is still a problem, as well. Acard's RAM drives come with a battery, but it can only provide about four hours of life to the RAM. If old man winter knocks out power with an ice storm, or a big twister sweeps through town, you can kiss your data goodbye. Acard tries to compensate this by including a function that allows you to back up the data on your RAM disk, but a backup can take half an hour to complete, which means it isn't something you'd be able to pull of as the lights start to dim.

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    Buy One - For Me

    So, does Acard's product mean that RAM drives might finally hit the mainstream? Probably not, so perhaps this article's title is a bit premature. Even so, Acard has shown a compelling niche product that creates a new option for high-end enthusiasts which didn't exist previously (Gigabyte's old I-RAM product had a 4GB maximum storage capacity and only used DDR1 RAM - in other words, it is completely obsolete). To me, the idea of a RAM disk is exciting, in a geeky sort of way, and I'm sure any enthusiast who would consider paying $1200 for 64 GB of storage.

    Even if you don't want to pay for Acard's hardware, the concept can be applied to software RAM Disk solutions , which use the RAM existing in your PC to create a miniature RAM disk. These solutions vary in their utility, but they're worth a try if you have RAM that is typically not used by your PC.