If you’re looking for a way to improve the performance of your Second Life® viewer on a Windows computer, there’s a relatively easy and inexpensive way to do it: a RAM drive, also known as a RAM disk. A RAM drive simulates a hard drive and exists entirely in your computer’s installed memory (RAM). Any reading or writing on a RAM drive can be dramatically faster than a traditional hard drive because it completely eliminates the hard drive’s mechanical components.
You’re probably saying, “There’s got to be a catch.” You’re right. There are two catches. Depending on your situation, however, they may not be obstacles.
One catch is that you need more than the basic amount of memory installed in your computer. There are two classes of Windows computer that can benefit:
- 32-bit Windows with more than 4GB of RAM. This is because a 32-bit system can utilize no more than 4GB of RAM, so if you have more than that, it’s probably not currently being used and you can devote any RAM over 4GB to the RAM drive.
- 64-bit Windows with a lot of memory. What’s “a lot of memory”? It depends on your situation. It’s anything more than your computer’s needs for everyday operation. One way to find out how much RAM your computer is using is to type control-alt-del, select “Start Task Manager”, and then click the Performance tab. It will show how much RAM you are using. If you check it during the times when you’re likely to be using the most RAM. Any RAM over your maximum usage is available for your RAM drive.
The second catch is that it requires a moderate amount of technical knowledge. You don’t have to be a computer wizard, but you should have some basic knowledge. If you know the difference between memory and hard drives, and if you know the difference between partitions, drives, and folders, then you may have the basic knowledge that’s required. However remember that RAM drives are not the standard way of doing things on most people’s computers, so you also need to be comfortable with knowing what to do when things go wrong.
The easiest thing to do is to put your Second Life viewer’s cache on the RAM drive, although if you are comfortable with installing software, for greater performance you can also install the viewer itself on the RAM drive instead of on the C drive. This writer does both. Firestorm is installed on my RAM drive instead of on the C drive, and Firestorm’s cache is also on the RAM drive. The RAM drive starts automatically with Windows, so Firestorm is always ready to go.
In Windows, the RAM drive looks like any other hard drive. It can be written to and read from just like any physical hard drive. In my testing, it’s nearly twenty times faster than a regular hard drive; the exact difference will vary on each computer, depending on the specifications of hard drive, memory, CPU, and motherboard. When I’m in a Second Life situation where lots of textures are rezzing, for example a ChangHigh Trinity Sisters Fireshow performance, the RAM drive allows me to see colorful textures with little delay, while most people are just seeing grey squares.
You can learn more about RAM drives at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAM_drive. There are a number of companies producing the software that creates a RAM drive. Wikipedia has a list of them at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_RAM_drive_software .
Next time: Installing a RAM drive