Using USB drives for better Windows performance

Over the years I have written several articles on the use of Virtual Memory and how to use it to speed up your computer.
Now that you have several “old” and “small” USB thumb or stick drives around that you don’t use anymore you can format them and install them on the back of your computer and use them as Virtual Memory instead of using the hard drive.  This should both increase your computing speed and make you feel good about recycling old computer parts. To be clear, I am not talking about external hard drives, just the little drives that are about the size of your thumb, hence the name “thumb drive”.

Now that you are done scrounging through your pencil drawer looking for old drives and you have finished hugging yourself for saving a USB tree from being dismembered, let’s continue.

Before we go any further, yes you can use and old SD or Compact Flash card for the same effect in Windows XP but not as “ReadyBoost” in Vista and Windows 7, they just usually are not as large in capacity so I will refer to them in this article but you can substitute as you please.

As a rule of thumb, USB drives are faster than the current mechanical hard drives (the new SSD drives are faster and I hope to write about them soon). That is why we would, could and should use them as Virtual Memory and ReadyBoost in your computer.

Using two or three 512MB USB drives is better than nothing, but using one 2GB is even better. I would not use more than two drives (only one is really needed) and several small ones can slow things down instead of speeding them up, so use the old 32 and 64 MB drives on your kids computer, just because you can.

Be sure you don’t want the data on the drives and then format the drive. To do this click on the “Start” button and then on “My Computer” (in XP) or “Computer” (in Vista and Windows 7) in the new window that appears, right-click on the USB drive (be 100% sure it is the drive you want to format and use). Select “Format” from the drop down menu and off you go. I choose to format as “NTFS” as the file system and I do NOT do a “Quick Format”.

To use ReadyBoost in Windows 7 and Vista, simply plug the drive in to get started. If it is blank when you connect it, you should get a screen / auto play window that has several choices, with one being “Speed up my System using Windows ReadyBoost”.

If the auto play window does not appear, simply click on the “Start” button, and then click one time on “Computer”. Now navigate to the flash drive and right-click on it and select “Properties”. The 5th tab should be “ReadyBoost” click on it and continue below.

Select that choice (ReadyBoost), a new window should appear and you should select the radio button “Use this device”.
Next you will want to drag the “Space to Reserve for system Speed” slide all the way to the right, using all the available space on the drive.
Select “OK” at the bottom of that window.

ReadyBoost is not exactly the same as Virtual Memory (VM) so if you have two extra USB drives, use the 2nd as VM.

To set up VM in Windows 7 or Vista, click on the “Start” button, and then right-click on “Computer” and select “Properties” from the drop down list.

If you have the standard window that appears on the left side click on “Advanced system settings”, a new window will appear and or a “Continue” window will appear too.

The new window (named “System Properties”) has several tabs, click on the “Advanced” tab.

Under the “Performance” section of that window click on “Settings” and a new window will appear.

Once again you will need to click on the the “Advanced” tab of the new page and under the section “Virtual memory” you will need to click on the “Change…” button.

The new window that appears most likely has “Automatically manage paging file size for all drives” selected, uncheck that box and then click on the USB drive that is NOT being used by ReadyBoost.

The ReadyBoost drive will show 0MB under space avaliable.

Click in the “Custom size” radio button and then fill out the “Initial size” and “Maximum size” which both should be the full amount of the USB drive listed minus 5MB or 10% of the total space (for some reason, Microsoft requires that much, probably for the Recycle bin).

Select “OK”, you might get a message “The changes you made will require you to restart your computer before they will take effect”  or something of that sort.

You will need to “OK” your way out of the other open windows and reboot.

If you are still using Windows XP, simply install the USB drive, format it (you want all the space you can have) and then follow the directions in my previous articles.

If you want the best performance out of this tweak, I would suggest purchasing a new USB drive. Personally I like the “OCZ 4GB Rally2”. The reason is that this is simply the fastest USB drive available and you want speed for your virtual memory, however whatever you have on hand is better than nothing. You can get the OCZ Rally 2 in 4GB from IFix Computers for only $24.99.

Well, that is all for now, until we meet again, have a virus free week.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *