Gigabyte's i-RAM storage device

RAM disk without the fuss

WHILE MICROPROCESSORS HAVE enjoyed rapid performance increases thanks to new chip fabrication technologies, higher clock speeds, and multiple cores, hard drives have struggled to overcome the mechanical latencies and challenges associated with spinning rewritable media at thousands of rotations per minute. Hard drives have picked up a few tricks over the years, growing smarter thanks to command queuing and learning to team up in multi-drive RAID arrays, but they're still the slowest components in a modern PC.

Those dissatisfied with the performance of mechanical storage solutions can tap solid-state storage devices that substitute silicon for spinning platters. Such devices shed the mechanical shackles that limit hard drive performance, but they've hardly been affordable options for most users. Then Gigabyte unveiled the i-RAM, a $150 solid state-storage device that plugs directly into a motherboard's Serial ATA port, accommodates up to four run-of-the-mill DDR SDRAM modules, and behaves like a normal hard drive without the need for additional drivers or software.

Gigabyte first demoed the i-RAM at Computex last summer, and cards have finally made their way to the North American market. One has also made its way to our labs, where it's been packed with high-density DIMMs and run through our usual suite of storage tests. Read on for more on how the i-RAM works, what its limitations are, and how its performance compares with a collection of single hard drives and multi-disk arrays.

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