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I have Dell XPS 15 with 8 GB RAM, Windows 7 x64 with 7200 rpm HDD, and I do Windows-based development on it - ASP.NET, SQL Server, Windows C# apps, etc.

Will attaching 8/16 GB fast USB stick speed up compilation times, startup and performance of virtual machines or is it a waste of money? I could get 16 GB Patriot USB Flash drive with 30 MB/s read speed for about 25 Euros, so it's not expensive, and it might complement the disk cache and speed up random reads.

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Does your system use the 8Gb it has right now? –  Ivo Flipse Feb 7 '11 at 10:30
There are some 'USB SSDs' which offer far greater speeds than the USB drive you mentioned. USB 2.0 support would be desirable, though. –  bastibe Feb 7 '11 at 11:07
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4 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

If you regularly use all 8GB of RAM, it might help. If you don't, the RAM itself will be used as cache, much faster than the flash drive.

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yes, but if I use 6 GB at one moment, then another 2 GB of RAM is available as disk cache. If the flash drive could expand the cache, it would still be faster than HDD. –  Axarydax Feb 7 '11 at 11:17
@Axarydax: As noted in other answers, flash drive is only good for small reads. 2 GB of disk cache is plenty for that. My personal system usually has 3GB of free memory, with disk cache filling about 2GB--my typical usage involving web browsing and coding is not able to use even these 3GB. It all depends on your usage, but unless you're performing really memory-hungry tasks, I doubt you'll see difference. –  liori Feb 7 '11 at 21:10
@Axarydax: Oh, btw, one more data point: I've got an old desktop with 1GB of RAM. Once I tried building a quite big solution (60 projects, most of them in C++, takes 2GB of diskspace after building) there with and without a 4GB ready-boost drive. The difference was around 2-3%, statistically insignificant... I remember that defragmenting the harddrive gave me more. –  liori Feb 7 '11 at 21:35
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Since you use a flash USB of recent models of 1 GB or more, connected to a USB 2.0 port, you really notice any difference in loading time of programs. Many games and applications can achieve higher load in half the time, besides the overall performance a little better (especially on systems with only 512 MB of RAM). But if you measure the transfer rates of USB drive and HD, you'll realize that almost always, the HD is faster. How then can the flash drive to improve performance?

The central issue is that HD is fast on sequential reads, which reads large blocks of data, located in adjacent sectors. The HD has a very high access time and therefore can offer incredibly low transfer rates (often 2 MB / s or less) reading many small files scattered. In this aspect the flash memory takes a great advantage. To give you an idea of the difference with an HD access time of 13 milliseconds would be able to accomplish little more than 60 readings per second, while even a modest flash memory speed can easily perform more than 4,000 readings per second.

Another issue is that the flash drive and HD are two separate devices, connected to separate buses, so the system can read data in both simultaneously. The system then copies small files and small sectors recorded far apart from the HD to the flash memory, and use it to store some swap memory (example of application where takes advantage of low latency of the flash memory) then the HD can concentrate on reading large files, depending on which is faster.

Flash memory is non volatile, so data is still there, ready to be used in subsequent boots, without needing to be transferred again from the HD. The main problem is that ReadyBoost flash memory has a limit of read cycles, so that heavy use can cause the flash memory to be defective after one or two years of use, especially the cheaper flash drives, which use chips of lower quality.

With the popularity of ReadyBoost feature, manufacturers of flash memory began to launch various types of flash drives optimized for ReadyBoost. Initially high-performance models were built using chips and controllers capable of sustaining higher rates of transfer. Then began to be released "dual-channel" pendrives, where two Flash memory chips are accessed simultaneously, doubling the rate of reading and writing, very similar to what we get when using two drives in RAID 0.

Finally, there were internal-use of flash USB, again sold as specific models for ReadyBoost. These internal USB drives are installed directly into one of the USB headers on the motherboard, the same 9-pin connectors where you connect the front USB ports of the cabinet. The idea is that they are installed continuously, keeping the ReadyBoost cache.

Each USB header on the motherboard provides two USB ports. However, the two ports are connected to the same controller, so the share offer 480 megabits per USB 2.0 controller. Making the flash drive to occupy the space belonging to both gates, the manufacturer avoids the performance of the flash memory to be underused by large use by the connection of other USB device.

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This information is OUTDATED

Even with 8GB of ram, with a 32GB usb flash drive , formatted NFTS, can hold 1 32GB flash drive and that's on a 3Gbps/sec bus... granted the flash drive isn't that fast.. but you can get some that are 200MegaBytes/sec ... even if you have 16GB of RAM, a 32GB Usb 3 readyboost drive will speed you up IF you have just a standard HDD system.

If you have SDDs, then readyboost is disabled as there is no point.


  1. The RB device need to be USB 3.0
  2. Your HD xfer speeds need to be under 200MB/sec (this can be achived by multiple sata 3 7200-10000 RPM drives in a RAID 0 array). If you have something like that.. then RB is useless
  3. as long as your RB is MORE than your system ram , it will help. I have 16GB, and while the system uses it all for cache, it's STILL not enough cache...

I use 2 32GB RB drives and they are used to 80% capacity. I also have 12TB of data on my HDDs.. so there's a LOT to cache :) However, I use Raid 5. I get some perf boost, but I don't want to lose data...

so those RB drives REALLY help - even with 16GB DDR3 memory

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At 480 Mbits/sec to transfer from USB, and 1 G bits/sec or more from a SATA hard drive, my guess is that the benefit would small, if any. You have a very large amount of RAM and the speed and access of that will far exceed that of USB.

Of course, if ReadyBoost does really clever magical things then it might have an impact. I doubt it, though. But if its cheap, then try it and see. Then let us known.

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I think your figure for SATA hard drives is off. Even in early 2014 the fastest consumer-level SSDs have maximum read speeds of just over 500 MB/s. –  rob Jan 27 at 18:56
SATA 1,2, 3 run speeds to disk of up to 6 G bits / sec. Its possible that drive latencies will reduce that to a series of bursts, and its also possible that an SSD will have less bursts than a mechanical HDD. On raw speed tems though, I can't see how USB would ever be faster. –  quickly_now Apr 15 at 5:22
ReadyBoost is only enabled for mechanical disks, and only if the flash drive is fast enough to improve performance. SATA1=1.5Gbps, SATA2=3Gbps, and SATA3=6Gbps. In all cases, that is burst speed reading from cache (often 32-64 MB). Consumer-grade hard disks rarely approach that speed and are lucky to reach 100-150 MBps sustained sequential reads. Real-world access patterns are typically random, so you may see as low as 1 MBps (8Mbps) from a mechanical disk (bit.ly/Rm3JIq), in which case ReadyBoost would help if there is insufficient RAM. –  rob Apr 15 at 15:55
Also speaking from experience, I've gotten better performance from a SSD connected via USB2 than I have from a HDD connected via SATA3. It often is not the bus speed but the underlying storage technology which dictates performance. –  rob Apr 15 at 16:00
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