How does Windows ReadyBoost

Plug a USB stick into a Windows computer - even Windows 8 - and Windows will ask if you want to speed up your system with ReadyBoost. But what exactly is ReadyBoost, and will it actually speed up your computer?

ReadyBoost was introduced in Windows Vista where it was a heavily promoted feature. Unfortunately, ReadyBoost isn't a magic bullet that makes your computer faster, although it can be useful in certain circumstances.

How ReadyBoost works

ReadyBoost works in conjunction with SuperFetch. SuperFetch, also introduced in Windows Vista, monitors the programs you use on your computer and automatically loads the application files and libraries into your computer's memory (RAM). When you start the application, it starts faster - your computer reads its files from memory, which is faster, instead of the hard drive, which is slower. Empty RAM is useless, so using it as a cache for frequently used applications can make your computer more responsive.

SuperFetch typically uses your computer's memory - it stores these files in your memory. But SuperFetch can also work with a USB stick - that's ReadyBoost in action. When you connect a USB drive to your computer and enable ReadyBoost, Windows will save SuperFetch data on your USB drive, which will free up system memory. Reading various small files from your USB flash drive is faster than reading them from your hard drive, so in theory it can improve your system's performance.

Why ReadyBoost Probably Not Useful To You

So far, so good - but there is a catch: USB storage is slower than RAM. It is better to store SuperFetch data in your computer's RAM than on a USB stick. Hence, ReadyBoost only helps when your computer doesn't have enough RAM. If you have more than enough RAM, ReadyBoost won't really help.

ReadyBoost is ideal for computers with little RAM. When Windows Vista was released, Anandtech rated ReadyBoost and the results of their benchmark were informative. Combined with 512MB of RAM (a very small amount of memory - new computers today typically have several gigabytes), ReadyBoost offered improved performance. However, adding more RAM has always improved performance more than using ReadyBoost.

If your computer is using a lot of RAM, you'd better add RAM instead of ReadyBoost.

Image source: Glenn Batuyong on Shutterstock

When ReadyBoost

ReadyBoost may still be useful if your current computer is low on RAM (512MB, or maybe even 1GB) and you don't want to add extra RAM for some. Reason: You may have a USB stick left over.

If you decide to use ReadyBoost, be aware that the speed of your USB drive will also depend on how much power you are getting. If you have an old, slow USB stick, you won't see a noticeable increase in performance even with little RAM. Windows won't run ReadyBoost on particularly slow USB sticks, but some drives are faster than others.

Image source: Windell Oskay on Flickr

In conclusion, ReadyBoost is unlikely to improve the performance of your computer much. If you have very little RAM (512MB or so) and a very fast USB drive, you may notice an increase in performance - but this is not guaranteed in this situation.

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