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I have a Windows 10 Professional workstation I use to simulate material flow in impressions. The FEA software I use creates large 50-100GB database files for each simulation I run. Copying these files to spinning media for storage seems to not take advantage of the amount of RAM this system has while transferring, starting off quick for a second or two, and then dropping to the two RAID0 7200RPM disk's native transfer speed of 300 MB/s (171-342 seconds). The files are coming from a software RAID0 of two 600GB partitions on two 1.2TB Intel 750 PCIe NVMe SSDs, so read performance is not the issue. The system is on a 2200VA UPS with an EBM, and backed up nightly to our storage server, so no worries about data loss.

What I am wondering is:

If I can tweak Windows 10's cache settings to read the entirety of the 50-100GB files into RAM at the 4GB/s (12-25 seconds) the two Intel 750s are capable of, and then write them to disk transparently. I am under the impression that the built-in Windows feature "disk caching" is capable of this, but some default cache-size setting in Windows is limiting the cache to what looks like ~5GB (hence the small burst of speed at the start). I don't think this blip comes from the miserly 128MB cache on the destination drives, as "Modified" Physical Memory usage does go up by ~5GB in that first second or so of transfer. That 5GB can be seen being written to disk after the transfer dialog box disappears. RAM usage decreases in hand with the speed of the two 7200RPM drives in RAID0. Once completed, you can see the disk activity go to zero and the RAM utilization return to normal. This tells me that disk caching is at least working, just limited to 5GB at most.

The system would be fine using 50-100GB of it's available RAM for this transfer, as the simulations typically only use up to maybe 80GB of RAM, and the simulations are not using that amount of RAM until the last stages of the simulation.

I have a Dell Precision T7910 workstation with the following specs:

2P Xeon E5-2687W v4
256GB LRDIMM ECC DDR4 2400MHz
Quadro M4000
x2 Intel 750 1.2TB PCIe NVMe, one boot, 600GB RAID0 Two Partitons
x2 WD Gold 8TB in software RAID0 on SAS 12 GB Ports (128MB Cache)
Eaton 5PX 2200 IRT 240V UPS
Windows 10 Pro 1703 - System is old enough to not have Windows 10 Pro for Workstations

What I have tried:

Checked/Enabled: "Enable write caching on the device." - On each Disk
Checked/Enabled: "Turn off Windows write-cache buffer flushing on the device." - On each Disk
Made sure Superfetch service is running (for whatever good that does).
Moved away from built-in hardware RAID, as there is NO cache anyway.

I have researched other topics with similar issues, and have come across another older thread mentioning a "CacheSet" tool:

How to increase the disk cache of Windows 7

Would this be applicable to my use-case or should I keep looking?

Is my understanding of how disk caching on a Windows platform works correct, or does it operate differently than I anticipated? I am just looking for write-caching to main memory, using maybe up to 100GB of RAM, nothing else.

Thank you for your help! Any suggestions are welcome.

EDIT: Running that cacheset.exe software as ADMIN reports the "Peak size" of "663732 KB" which seems too small (648MB?). Just not sure I want to commit changing this setting and potentially messing up this in-production system. The limit I keep running into is right around 5GB.

DOUBLE EDIT: I revised the apparent GBs that seem to be actually cached. The key was looking at "Modified Physical Memory" and seeing the ~5GB "cap" at the start of the transfer. Still looking to increase this to something like 100GB.

Thank you again!

  • this looks... fun. If you don't end up getting an answer, and don't mind keeping an eye on the question for me, I might be willing to get a bounty on this – Journeyman Geek Nov 27 '17 at 12:23
  • I don't have an 'answer' as I can't test, but I wonder if some of the settings (the client ones) in msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/hardware/… would help. – djsmiley2k Nov 27 '17 at 13:03
  • You can use third-party tools like PrimoCache, if the built-in caching isn't enough for you. I'd suggest that at >100GB RAM you're well into specialised areas. – Bob Nov 27 '17 at 13:40
  • Thank you Bob. PrimoCache looks like it does what I need, but it seems like this can be fixed by changing a silly limitation hard-coded somewhere in the registry (thank you djsmiley2k, looking now). Not sure I would completely trust inserting another 3rd party layer to "intercept I/O" without testing it thoroughly on a non-production system first. I will see if we can test it out on a lesser 1P Precision with another Intel 750 and spinning rust. This T7910 is our dedicated simulation box. Thank you again! – GHTurbines Nov 27 '17 at 18:44
  • I will keep an eye on this question for a while, Journeyman Geek. Thank you! As it stands, as long as we stay ahead of transferring off of the SSD before it becomes full (transferring during simulations), we should not have to wait for a transfer to complete to start a new simulation. 1TB of SSD is done with in less than 1 hour if we are busy, or working on a complex impression. – GHTurbines Nov 27 '17 at 18:46
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A larger cache won't help, not with any standard file copy app.

No matter how large the Windows file cache is, no sane file copy tool will close the input files for the copy task (allowing you to delete them) before all the data has been written to the destination. That is true even if the entire input data happens to have been read into the cache.

The reason is that the data in the cache is not safe - it could disappear at any time. Any RAM used by the cache that has not been modified since it was read from disk is considered discardable by the memory manager. That is, if something else needs the RAM, RAM used by the cache can be grabbed from the cache and "repurposed", ie given to the something else, at any moment. Of course it can - after all, there isn't supposed to be any data anywhere that's only in the cache. (Unless it's been modified since being read from disk. In that case it is automatically queued for writeback, which will happen within four seconds; it can't be repurposed until the writeback is complete.)

So with a standard copy program, you're going to have to wait for the spinning disks to write the data before you can delete the source files - regardless of how much is buffered in a cache.

Note that a copy program (or any other app) cannot even find out whether something is in the cache. There's no interface for that. Even if there was, the information would be considered "stale" the moment it was retrieved, even before the app looked at it. The file cache is supposed to work automatically, transparent to apps, and part of transparency is that there are very few controls on it.

Think of it this way: You need a safe intermediate copy of your results - something functionally equivalent to another copy of your source files in a different directory, maybe even a separate drive letter, before you can safely delete the originals. The Windows file cache will never give you that. Even if Windows does decide to slurp the original files in their entirety into the file cache (which is very unlikely), the file cache does not give you that.

(You may be wondering "so what good is it anyway?" The main goal of the file cache is to make repeated access to numerous small files (and file system metadata) faster. And it does that quite well.)

SuperFetch

TL,DR version: SuperFetch doesn't give you that either.

You are correct in your expressed doubt about SuperFetch. While SuperFetch is effective at what it tries to do, it won't help this case. What SuperFetch does is to keep track of files that are frequently accessed, say on every boot, and try to read them into RAM in advance of need.

This distinction is important if you want to understand Windows caching in general. The Windows file cache (which is what I've described in the previous section) is reactive, meaning that it never caches anything until a program has actually tried to read it. It has been in the Windows NT family since first release (NT 3.1).

SuperFetch is a separate mechanism, originally added with Vista. It is proactive, trying to pre-fetch things that have been observed to have been accessed often in the past.

SuperFetch manages its RAM separately from the Windows file cache. SuperFetch uses "lower-priority" pages on the Windows standby page list - and funny thing, it just leaves them on that list, so they remain part of "available" RAM. (So all other things being equal, you won't notice a difference in "Available" RAM with our without SuperFetch enabled, but you will notice a difference in the amount of reported "Cache".) The RAM assigned to the file cache is in a working set and therefore takes a little longer to repurpose, if that need arises. Because of this design the SuperFetch cache is even more quickly "discardable" than the Windows file cache, so it does not give you a safe temporary copy of anything, any more than the file cache does.

So what can you do?

To solve your problem, I would be looking at dedicated hardware. Maybe get a single not-so-expensive-or-fast SSD of say 120 GB and copy the data from your SSD array to that, then copy it from there to the hard drive. This would, alas, mean that you can't start writing to the hard drives until all of your data has been copied to the temporary, so this will take longer than what you're doing now. But the source data will be freed sooner.

A simpler idea would be to get more hard drives and put them in a larger stripe set to increase write throughput.

A dedicated copy program, one that knows the structure of your data, might help.

btw, I hope your FEA software is using mapped file access when creating the data set - it's far faster than traditional read/write calls.

  • Well technically I think he doesn’t really want to to be cached. He wants it to be buffered. That’s safe, of course, but still won’t provide any advantage whatsoever. – Daniel B Feb 27 '18 at 10:11
  • You are correct, but my strong impression is that he was asking about getting the Windows file cache to do the job. Hence my discourse about why it isn't suitable. – Jamie Hanrahan Feb 27 '18 at 12:02
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This is a little late, but you can use a program called PrimoCache (formerly FancyCache) to accomplish what you need. Set up a volume on a spare SSD (or on your 600GB fast NVMe RAID0 array, although that's a little risky unless you have redundancy...) as a Level-2 cache, and cache reads and writes to a specific slow volume through it. Your writes to that volume will transparently be cached through the fast volume first. Of course if the cache volume fails mid write, you have corrupted data, but that's an unavoidable sacrifice. If you are selective about what exactly it is you are caching it can be extremely effective with a minimal risk associated. With an appropriately sized cache volume (256GB would probably be more than enough) you can achieve near-SSD performance on slow and high capacity mechanical arrays for frequently accessed blocks. Also keep in mind SSDs have a limited number of writes in them, although I have yet seen one fail. If it does, at worst you replace it and repopulate the cache, and you possibly lose some data if it fails while writing to the HDD volume. You can also use the same program to create a Level-1 cache in RAM instead of using a SSD, which is even faster, but uses up some RAM.

Of course the better solution is to install VMWare ESX on the workstation, provision a VM, and then you can configure your storage array exactly as you want it for maximum performance and scalability. Install Windows in the VM and access it remotely through vSphere Client. This way the caching is done below the operating system, as close to the hardware as possible.

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