Windows 7, Vista, and ReadyBoost on older computers

I have a Dell Dimension 3000 with Intel Pentium 4 Processor w/ HT Technology (3GHz, 800 FSB), I GB of RAM with an 80 GB EIDE Hard Drive (7200 RPM). I also have a Gateway Laptop with an Intel Duo Centrino 1.6 GHz Processor with a 160 GB SATA hard drive and 2 GB of RAM. Both machines came with Windows XP installed. I installed Vista on both and regretted the change in system responsiveness that resulted. The Dell was excruciatingly slow, and the Gateway was better but still suffered from frequent lags and occasional lockups. I soon put XP back on and concluded that upgrading a Microsoft OS on older equipment was rarely a good idea. Remember Windows ME?

My adventure with Vista was a disappointment. Vista is an under-appreciated OS with a lot of terrific features that most people never see because of what I call the second date syndrome. Many people never got past their first impression of Vista —a first date —because of Vista’s frequent security prompts and lack of speed. Vista really needs 4GB or more of RAM and a dual core processor to perform well and many computers did not have that when Vista was introduced. Therefore, most people never gave a Vista a second chance  –a second date— and missed Vista’s terrific management and monitoring tools, advanced networking capabilities, troubleshooting wizards and a wonderful Desktop search feature.

When Windows 7 was released I was tempted to try once again to upgrade my PCs from XP. Windows 7 was supposed to require less Memory and to use Processor resources much more efficiently than Vista. I install Windows 7 on both machines and found that the promises were kept. Windows 7 runs beautifully on the Laptop and even works well on the Dell despite that fact that it only has 1 GB of RAM. XP is not going back on either computer.

I was curious on one point; however, would the Readyboost feature in Windows 7 make a further improvement of performance? ReadyBoost is designed to use USB flash memory to improve computer performance by placing a Superfetch cache on the flash drive for quick access. The theory is that placing critical data on flash to make it more readily available would make Windows run faster.

I decided to do some (very) informal tests to see if performance would improve using Readyboost.

I selected a 4 GB USB flash drive and dedicated the entire drive to Ready Boost. I measured boot times and shut down times and how long it would take applications to launch and load large files. I did my tests on the 32 bit version of Windows 7. 64 Bit Windows 7 can utilize up to 256 GB of ReadyBoost memory spread across up to eight devices.

My tests showed only a 1 second improvement in boot time but a 35% improvement in shutdown time. Word, Excel and PowerPoint loaded files about 1 to 5% faster on average.  ReadyBoost may give a bigger margin of improvement if the computers had a slower disk or less RAM, or if the applications were working with many large files at once

My conclusion is that ReadyBoost does not give a significant improvement in performance on my  computers when running commonplace applications. My systems have fast disk drives and enough RAM on board not to need ReadyBoost. Certain applications that do photo editing or desktop publishing might benefit. The best thing to do it to try ReadyBoost on your computer and see if it gives you a worthwhile “boost.”

-Mark

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