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My motherboard (HP Pavilion s3000y) only supports 2GB of RAM max. Which means that I can only allocate 1GB for running VMs, and applications that use a lot of RAM are slow (such as games and Visual Studio).

Is it possible to use a storage disk such as a USB drive as RAM?

Or if not, can VirtualBox use a drive as RAM for VMs?

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No and no. You need to disable everything you can (services, prefetch, indexing, etc.) to free up RAM. Using XP could make your life easier. –  mtone Jan 1 '12 at 6:23
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@kobaltz RAM disks take free memory to use as a drive, which is the opposite of what OP is asking. I don't think a "disk RAM" (as opposed to a "RAM disk") utility is possible. And to add about why virtualbox doesn't do it: virtualization is a sort of gateway to your system, not a emulator. –  mtone Jan 1 '12 at 6:40
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Should probably think about getting another motherboard. . . –  surfasb Jan 1 '12 at 11:02
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Honestly Nate, this system is NOT made for virtualization, more as a kitchen computer, if you need this for work or study you're better of building or buying a 400$ 'normal' pc. Otherwise, I'd recommend dualbooting instead of virtualization! and @surfasb: Getting a different motherboard is not really the option on a hp slimline –  HTDutchy Jan 1 '12 at 11:32
    
@s4uadmin: That brings up a good point. That powersupply would not hold up even if you did plug in a more powerful motherboard. –  surfasb Jan 1 '12 at 11:40

7 Answers 7

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Windows Vista and 7 support ReadyBoost which will use a fast USB drive as a cache for SuperFetch. This allows SF to work better on systems with limited RAM. This can help increase responsiveness of file I/O operations because the flash drive is much faster at 4K random read/writes than the HDD.

Better yet, get a SSD drive. A pagefile on an SSD is really fast and will improving paging operation speeds fairly significantly, but is in no way a replacement for more RAM.

BTW, have you attempted to install larger RAM than it the motherboard suggests that it can use? It's possible that if you upgrade to the latest BIOS revision that you might be able to use larger chips, such as 2x2GB or 4x1GB (not sure how many RAM slots you have). It shouldn't hurt to at least try a larger chip if you have one available.

Also, you should reduce the RAM allocation to your virtual machine to as little as is needed to run the VM. An XP guest can run in as little as 256MB or 384MB of RAM depending on what you're using it for.

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Isn't it well known that ReadyBoost is not at all helpful on a computer with 2GB or more of RAM? And, aren't SSDs expensive enough that he could just about buy a new computer with 4GB of RAM for not much more, which would be much better overall? –  Graphth Jan 2 '12 at 3:02
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Apparently, no - somebody didn't know and tried. Guess what, it did help. –  MSalters Jan 2 '12 at 8:09
    
ReadyBoost is helpful in marginal situations. As I noted in my edit above, it is only used by SuperFetch; it has nothing to do with speeding up pagefile IOs. IF your RAM is "marginal" for your workload, and IF your workload is such that SuperFetch can help you, then SF can speed up file IO and even program loading (which is paging but not through the pagefile). If you have plenty of RAM, it won't help b/c SF will already be working in RAM; and if you're really short on RAM, even moving all of SF out of RAM won't help enough. –  Jamie Hanrahan Mar 18 at 22:54

The reason that applications that use a lot of memory make the system slow is because that forces the system to use storage devices. What you are asking to do is what the system is already doing and the reason you are not happy. Unfortunately, the only solutions are to change your workload so it requires less memory or to add more memory.

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Even if you were to do this, it would not be recommended. USB drives/Hard Drives are extremely slow. Think about your USB Drive. It will transfer at a MAX of 60MBps. The ram in your computer based on your other question will run anywhere from 4200MBps to 5333MBps!

That is why when your computer is low on memory that it will use your Pagefile to allocate memory as Virtual Memory. Your hard drive light will go crazy and your computer will slow down greatly. It ran out of physical memory and in efforts to not crash, it will use your hard drive as virtual memory. Just think of how slow the computer is at that point and just think how horrible your VM will run if it is always using this RamDisk (see below) or virtual memory.

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Yes, the name is "virtual memory" or "swapping"; it has been in regular use on personal computers for a very long time (first found in the 1960s, and ever since 1990s all mainstream OSes have them and turned them on by default). You might be able to improve performance marginally by tweaking the size of virtual memory (how to for vista), although it probablyy wouldn't improve performance by much.

In general a virtual memory only improve performance in situations where your computer will not be able to handle the memory load otherwise, e.g. in situation where your system starts to go awry because they get OOM-killed by the OS.

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First, are you SURE you're mobo is limited to 2GB?! I thought I saw a Pavilion the other day that used DDR2 or even DDR3 style RAM. If your system can use DDR2 or better then that means it's probably a good possibility that you can populate the only 2 RAM slots with larger RAM sticks. You may be able to use two 2GB sticks thus allowing you to upgrade to 4GB.

But then there's the BIOS. And I just can't believe HP doesn't have a BIOS update you can flash. (And it would be a huge clue if you look on HP's web site for your specific model.) But even without a BIOS update, you should at least be able to see a little more than 3Gig of RAM. You'll just need to flash your BIOS in order to access the entire 4Gig. And again, assuming you can even install DDR2 or better.

But if you're stuck with DDR1 then forget it. I too would probably elect to dual-boot instead of using a VM. I know it sucks when trying to share data between OS's and especially when trying out new distros. But then again, almost any Linux distro can natively deal with NTFS partitions too (hint, hint).

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no. Storage devices like USB drives can help OS to store / fetch data from it to RAM. it just helps to do these type of paging / swapping operations.

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You can use an alternate memory manager: http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-memory-optimizer.htm. A memory manager can compress the used ram and free up a bit of ram. In Linux there is compcache and/or zram. However I don't know how that works on Windows. It could be that the alternate memory manager doesn't use this technology of compression. This program here uses compression: http://www.wincarepro.com/index.htm. You can use compcache to create a ram disk for Windows (http://www.vflare.org/2009/03/ram-is-not-enough-memory-compression.html).

Edit: Here is another program: http://www.windows7download.com/win7-memory-improve-master/smdggjpk.html but it looks exactly the same like this one http://www.wincarepro.com? I don't know if this is serious?

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A RAM disk is a terrible idea in almost all situations, and in EVERY "limited RAM" situation. And add-on "memory managers" almost always do more harm than good. They operate on the principle that free RAM is good. In fact, free RAM is wasted RAM. –  Jamie Hanrahan Mar 18 at 22:56
    
@JamieHanrahan:I wrote RamDisk in the sense of Memory-Swap. Additionally it can be compressed:vflare.org/2009/03/ram-is-not-enough-memory-compression.html. –  Phpdevpad Mar 19 at 9:05
    
I'm not sure what "in the sense of memory-swap" means, but if you mean putting a page file on a RAM disk? That isn't even wrong. It will increase the page fault rates. Not all the additional faults will be resolved to the RAM disk (most, statistically, go to mapped files). Of those that are, yes, the PF on RAM disk will be faster than a hard drive - but NOT committing that RAM to a RAM disk, hence not incurring those additional faults at all, would be even faster. –  Jamie Hanrahan Mar 19 at 9:16
    
@JamieHanrahan:I'm not sure what is your problem. You can read the article about compcache. It uses a compressed ram-disk for the swap. In some cases it helps. –  Phpdevpad Mar 19 at 9:20
    
I did read the article. It is easy to devise specific workloads in which such things appear to help. Even a simple "memory optimizer" (which simply evicts as much as it can from RAM) will appear to help with the startup time of the next program you start. But to do so it kills the performance of everything else you had running, including much of the OS. Showing across-the-board performance gains with no downside is MUCH more difficult. –  Jamie Hanrahan Mar 19 at 20:39

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