How to: Use a USB flash drive as extra RAM in Windows 7

by David Nield on March 23, 2010

You can use a spare USB drive as extra RAM in Windows 7.

The ReadyBoost feature was introduced to Windows with the release of Vista, and it has been retained in the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, with some minor improvements. It enables you to use a plugged in USB stick as additional RAM memory that can be utilised by your PC – while not as fast as the actual RAM sticks installed inside your computer case, these flash drives operate much faster than the hard disk, which is where Windows usually stores extra data once the RAM has filled up.

When you plug in a USB drive into your PC you’ll be asked if you want to activate ReadyBoost. You can find the same setting by right-clicking on the drive in Windows Explorer, choosing Properties and opening up the ReadyBoost tab from the dialog that appears. If the device matches the compatible specifications (including an access time of 1ms or less) then Windows will begin to use it for temporary data storage.

The highest performance gains will be seen on systems where there isn’t a great deal of on-board RAM installed to begin with. Instead of repeatedly accessing the hard drive to cache data as it works, Windows will be able to use the speedier USB stick instead. In Windows 7, you can use up to 8 separate devices to provide a total of 256GB additional memory for your PC system.

(For a full guide to Windows 7, order the Essential Windows 7 Handbook 2nd Edition, on sale now from newsagents and online.)

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