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I have a pretty good PC (Core i7-920, 12 GB RAM), but it has a slow HDD (WD Green series, 5400 RPM - linear read-write speed is solid, but random access is horrible). Any common HDD-related operations are noticeably slow. Can I do anything to improve performance? Increase RAM cache or something like that? NCQ (AHCI) is already enabled in both BIOS and Windows.

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WD greens also aggressively spin down for lower power use. Not the best bet for a main system drive, IMO –  Journeyman Geek Aug 7 '13 at 9:19
    
Random access is ALWAYS horrible on platter type drives. You gotta work with that fact to solve your problem. EVERYONE using a "normal" HDD is in the same boat. While you seem to want to fix it without an SSD, I don't know why more people don't do something about it. They seem to think the ONLY solution to "better" is an SSD. –  Damon Aug 7 '13 at 22:04
    
Well, SSDs are REALLY good at random access - if you wanted to fix this on a HDD you'd want more cache, used intelligently I'd guess as well as fewer, smaller platters. –  Journeyman Geek Aug 8 '13 at 0:13
    
The most effective means of speeding up your drive is also the simplest: defragment! Other than that, there may not be much you can do. –  TSJNachos117 Aug 8 '13 at 0:22
    
@Journeyman Geek Why won't Windows use that extra 10GB of ram the OP has to cache files? If it did, I doubt he/she would be asking this question. My windows 7 install with bigger programs is only 40GB; that's 25% of my whole drive! –  Damon Aug 8 '13 at 3:19

4 Answers 4

It is the seek time that is killer on any platter type drive. Also know that disks are constant angular velocity which means files are read faster on the outside edge of the disk vs the inside edge.

So use these two facts to your advantage. Move all user data (my documents, my pictures, music, videos, temp internet files, even chromes using a junction, ANY thing not used by OS regularly) to another partition and condense you OS partition to 25%-35% free space. This pushes your OS files to the edge of the disk and it condenses the file locations physically on the disk so the head has to move less to read the files. Just make sure you give windows lots of room to grow on a new install (50% +/- free space) or leave 25%-35% free space on an older install.

Use your computer for a few days like normal so files are accessed and used enough to show a pattern to a defrag program. Then defrag using a third party utility using a smart placement scheme or by access time scheme. This will make it so your OS files are literally on the outside edge of the drive and hopefully grouped in a way that multiple files read together are placed together or at least close to each other (doesn't exactly work, but it helps)

We go as far as to use a second drive and put OS on first partition of drive 1, and install all programs on the first partition of drive 2. Shouldn't do much difference (I don't think files are called upon simultaneously) but it seems to make things faster yet. My wife doesn't understand why her "old" P4 2.8 runs faster than her friends computers (every one has a newer computer than her). All this hooplah is part of the reason.

Also, to take things even further, stop all unneeded background processes and programs; many of them occasionally seek a file on the drive and many of them turns into regular seeks that will slow normal operation. This is usually minimal though compared to the rest of the things.

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The use of defrag is critical. However, moving the OS to a separate partition will unlikely offer any speed improvements. If anything the multiple partitions will slow performance and make the defrag less useful. Defrag is only efficient when the program has complete access to the disk. And Windows, once a month, will run a performance check and move its OS files, and programs around the physical disk for a performance increase (like a smart defrag) - this cannot happen with multiple partitions. –  Mark Lopez Aug 7 '13 at 22:18
    
@Mark Lopez Multiple partitions will only make things slower if you put constantly accessed files on a separate partition. But if you have a 80% full 1TB drive and the OS only takes up 70GB, moving those files not used by the OS to the center of the drive, that is to another partition, will make it so the OS files can be physically located closer to one another making the head have to move less during seeking which is the bulk of what it does during regular use; its simple physics that you playing with and I assure, physics does hold true, even in hard drives. –  Damon Aug 8 '13 at 0:44
    
With proper defragging this will be accomplished. With partitions there will be empty room close to the center - empty space that programs can use. Some non-windows programs have large IO that the defrag will optimize - but with partitions this is not possible. Further not all Windows files are used every day. With partitioning, you will priorities recovery files over files access everyday such as Google Chrome / Firefox. –  Mark Lopez Aug 8 '13 at 1:14
    
@Mark Lopez You comment confuses me very much. "With partitions there will be empty room close to the center - empty space that programs can use." Huh? You don't want programs in the center, you want them as close to the edge as possible. Have you ever seen a graph from HDTach? "Some non-windows programs have large IO that the defrag will optimize - but with partitions this is not possible." Again, what? Defrag doesn't optimize I/O, it optimizes file placement. And have you never defragged a partition other than the main one? It's really easy to do so. –  Damon Aug 8 '13 at 2:46
    
@Mark Lopez "Further not all Windows files are used every day. With partitioning, you will priorities recovery files over files access everyday such as Google Chrome / Firefox." Again, huh? Out of the 10,000-100,000+ temp internet files, you won't notice the difference for the few your browser uses at a time vs the 10's or even 100's of files your OS uses as you open programs, install things, and run them. I just ran Process Monitor and it quickly showed over 100,000 "events" and 1000's of files read and none of them were from another partition. –  Damon Aug 8 '13 at 2:47

You can try use an USB Thumb drive as ReadyBoost Cache to get a bit improvement.

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This will not increase performance. The USB drive will only be used for ReadyBoost on the occasion when Windows uses the PageFile. With 12GB of ram the usage of the Pagefile is small, if Windows uses it at all. With that note, only USB 3.0 drives will improve PageFile performance as most USB drives will likely underperform the main HDD (causing the whole system to slow). –  Mark Lopez Aug 7 '13 at 22:09
    
@MarkLopez It's not true that it's only used for pagefile reads. SuperFetch will store data on ReadyBoost drives. Of course, SuperFetch would prefer to store the data in RAM, and with 12GB of it, unless the workload exhausts the RAM the ReadyBoost drive probably won't come into play. –  Louis Aug 7 '13 at 22:45
    
@Louis Thank you, you are correct is saying that ReadyBoost drives do not contain the Page File. After some research I found when SuperFetch Memory-Maps files it will use the Ram above all. Therefore, ReadyBoost will still only be used when the Page File is used, and the Page File will only be used when there is no Ram to Memory-Map files to. Readyboost will not decrease performance, however, it is unlike that it will improve performance as well. –  Mark Lopez Aug 7 '13 at 23:14
    
ReadyBoost caches small files on the Flash drive which has a faster access time. this may improve perf a but, but the best is really to buy an SSD: "The core idea of ReadyBoost is that a flash drive (aka USB thumb drive or USB memory stick) has a much faster seek time than a typical magnetic hard disk (less than 1 ms), allowing it to satisfy requests faster than reading files from the hard disk." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ReadyBoost –  magicandre1981 Aug 8 '13 at 4:02

The speed of your HDD (5400 RPM) is the main bottleneck. Any tweaks that you make will be minimal (if anything at all). Your best bet would be going for a new HDD rated at 7200 RPM (Western Digital Blacks or Seagate Barracudas), or better yet, an SSD.

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That much is obvious :) –  Violet Giraffe Aug 7 '13 at 8:34

When I look at your system, the first thing that pops into my mind is RAM, I am assuming that you don't use all of it. Have extra Ram to spare? Use a virtual Ram disk.

So as the name implies, the Ram disk runs in memory.

From Wikipedia :

The performance of a RAM drive is in general orders of magnitude faster than other forms of storage media, such as an SSD, hard drive, tape drive, or optical drive. This performance gain is due to multiple factors, including access time, maximum throughput and type of file system, as well as others.

Basically Ram is faster than any other storage media that we can produce. I believe my Ram drive is at least 10 times faster than my SSD. Ram as you may know is not persistent - and at one point in time Ram disks just disappeared on reboot. This is not the same with modern OS's. The Ram disk can be read into memory at boot, and saved on a schedule.

Downsize is Ram still cannot store as much as your drive. So I propose limiting your scope to programs that require HDD throughput. Use SymLinks to put files or whole directories on the Ram Drive (this allows you to keep your old settings, and your programs cannot tell that part of themselves are not on the HDD). (http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/16226/complete-guide-to-symbolic-links-symlinks-on-windows-or-linux/)

Ram disks were used in Windows up until Windows 7 (but are still included in Servers). I am running Windows 8, therefore I used software to provide this capability to Windows again. I use SoftPerfect RAM Disk: (http://www.softperfect.com/products/ramdisk/)

I find SoftPerfect one of the fastest Ram disks. Best thing - its free!

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What files would he put on the RAM drive? I would love a way to utilize a RAM drive to make my OS go faster but I could never figure out what files to put on it to do that; the files get deleted upon restart. –  Damon Aug 8 '13 at 2:57

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