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What Are RAM Disks and How Do They Work?


Thanks to solid-state drives, fast and plentiful storage is well within the reach of the modern computer user. But what if you want a hard disk that is even faster than an SSD? RAM disks, also referred to as RAM drives, may be the solution you need.

Tip: thinking of upgrading your RAM? Find out which RAM is better for you: DDR4 or DDR5.

What Is a RAM Disk Anyway?

A RAM disk is a sort of software abstraction of a disk drive. Tell your computer to treat a couple of sticks of RAM like a hard drive, and it dutifully obliges. By repurposing RAM, you gain a huge boost in speed but not without drawbacks.

RAM disks throw away a defining feature of disk drives, which is the permanent storage of data. As volatile memory, RAM is erased every time it loses power, but it makes up for this by being fast and nimble. Hard disks and even the best SSDs are lumbering megafauna by comparison, but they can store vast amounts of data at low cost with no need for power.

Creating RAM disk using OSFMount

The dichotomy of fast, temporary RAM and slow, permanent disk storage has existed for decades, but RAM drives dispose of all that. After all, if we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we make hard drives out of RAM?

The plummeting cost of RAM has also helped the rise of RAM disks. The amount of RAM we take for granted in our computers would make your grandfather blush. While we are again seeing an uptick in price (especially with newer DDR5 memory), it’s still within the realm of “affordable,” to put together a 64GB disk of blazing-fast silicon. However, the best gaming RAM is still outrageously expensive, compared to SSDs or spinning-platter HDDs.

How Do RAM Disks Compare to Other Drives?

While a conventional HDD tops out at around 120MB/s, modern PCIe 5.0 or Gen5 SSDs easily cross 10,000MB/s in sequential read/write speeds. But even these speeds pale in comparison to a DDR4 RAM disk, which averages around 30,000MB/s. A DDR5 RAM disk will exceed even that.

Since RAM disks can only store data while they have power, any data you want to retain needs to be stored somewhere else. This means that RAM disks need to have data loaded into them at startup, copying information from a primary storage medium, like an SSD or HDD. If you’ve ever copied gigabytes of information, you know this takes time.

That’s why using a RAM disk like a regular storage drive is cumbersome. The time you save in processing is reduced by the time it takes to load data into the RAM. That leads to high startup costs, but that investment is recouped in the form of ludicrous speed.

Good to know: curious about RAM latency? Find out what RAM timing is, and why it matters.

Should I Use A RAM Disk?

Bottom line: RAM disk is an inefficient way to gain access to faster-than-SSD storage on your device. It doesn’t make sense financially, or even functionally (for the most part).

But there are a few use cases where the utility of RAM drives is undeniable. For instance, if you have more than enough RAM to spare, say, on a 32GB or 64GB RAM system, you can utilize part of it as a separate RAM drive to run certain applications, like Adobe Premiere Pro, that’ll benefit from the blazing-fast speeds. You can even try running heavy games on a RAM disk to see if the improvement in load times is worth it.

Cyberpunk 2077 game load times

But to decide whether you should use a RAM disk, you need to consider its pros and cons.

Benefits of RAM Disks

  • Significantly faster than high-end NVMe SSDs
  • Doesn’t cost anything if you have plenty of available RAM on your device
  • Ideal for use as temporary storage for productivity workloads
  • Can speed up load times in games
  • Can speed up browsing if used to store browser cache

Drawbacks of RAM Disks

Despite the many advantages of RAM disks, there are also very real drawbacks.

  • It costs a whole lot more than high-end SSDs for the same capacity (imagine buying 500GB of DDR5 RAM)
  • It’s volatile memory and can’t retain any data after a power cycle
  • Risk of reduced available memory for the regular tasks on your PC

RAM drives are faster than anything else, but their applications are extremely specific. They’re not really hard drives or SSDs in the traditional sense. Rather, they’re exceedingly fast temporary storage mediums that can be treated like a hard drive by your OS. While RAM disks aren’t too helpful for regular consumers, enthusiasts can see a big boost by setting up and using a RAM drive in Windows.

Image credit: Unsplash. All screenshots by Tanveer Singh.

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Tanveer Singh

After a 7-year corporate stint, Tanveer found his love for writing and tech too much to resist. An MBA in Marketing and the owner of a PC building business, he writes on PC hardware, technology, video games, and Windows. When not scouring the web for ideas, he can be found building PCs, watching anime, or playing Smash Karts on his RTX 3080 (sigh).

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