Can Gigabyte's i-RAM Replace Existing Hard Drives?

Bottom Line: Impressively Fast, But Not For Home Use

Gigabyte's i-RAM earns a high degree of respect because the manufacturer obviously put quite a bit of thought into how to increase the performance of today's computers - and above all subjectively. The performance differences between variously equipped, modern computers today is only detectable when really demanding applications come into play. i-RAM actually makes a difference - however, at a price that makes little sense for the end consumer.

At just under 130 MB/s, i-RAM completely exhausts the bandwidth made available by Serial ATA, and in the next generation urgently needs to set its sights on Serial ATA II. Without substantial hardware changes, well over 200 MB/s could then fly over the wires. However, the influence of the fast i-RAM drive is not as noticeable in daily use as one might think.

Larger differences result for I/O-heavy applications, because thanks to what are now basically imperceptible access times, database applications, for example, can get ready to truly soar since the current maximum of 4 GB is sufficient to store data files. However, i-RAM can by no means replace an extensive RAM, and in our opinion is only appropriate therefore for application cases with a need for the fastest possible memory subsystem.

Due to its better value for money, therefore, we would recommend the fastest possible hard disk for most users. But for the user who has the money, the dream of a PC without perceptible waiting times comes a step closer through a generously equipped iRAM for the Windows installation or as a drive for working data (or the Windows virtual memory).

Looking Ahead: Hybrid Hard Disks

i-RAM has left its mark on us, however, because it makes us long for so-called hybrid drives - drives that hard disk manufacturers are already working on. In addition to the rotating, magnetic memory disks, they will also have a certain quantity of memory chips. The main application use for such drives are supposed to be notebooks, where the operating system can act completely in the "primary memory" of the hard disk drive in order to shut down the spindle drive as often as possible to save energy.

Depending on the type and quantity of the onboard memory (Flash or DRAM), this procedure could also contribute to a subjectively perceptible increase in performance in desktop or notebook systems, since the hard disk could buffer and then completely independently process above all those slower write operations.

Here native command queuing would also make itself more noticeable since in place of a few kiloBytes, now theoretically even hundreds of megaBytes could be written from the local buffer to the magnetic memory medium in an ideal order. This would result in coming closer to possible performance through sequential writes. And as soon as the operating system also recognizes a hybrid drive, it could also store virtual memory data and often used system files in the fast memory area. But we'll certainly have to be patient until the end of 2006 and/or Windows Vista for that to happen.