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Virtual Memory and SSDs

An explanation into why virtual memory may be harmful to a SSD drive

Steve Smith explains why you should not have virtual memory enabled on your SSD drives.

Episode #3-17 released on January 20, 2013

Should we allow Windows, or any other operating system, the right to ever install virtual memory on a SSD drive?

The short answer is no. The long answer is a little more difficult to explain. In order to understand why we shouldn't use virtual memory on our SSD drives, we should actually think about what virtual memory actually is, and what it is used for.

Your computer contains RAM, also known as random access memory. This is considered to be physical memory, the actual memory of your computer's short term tasks, like your own short term memory. Unlike us, computers have a limited amount of RAM, based on what the owner or manufacture has installed. In a 32-bit environment only the first 4GB (3.0 to 3.5 in practice) of RAM, can be read and used by the operating system and there that is the maximum amount of physical memory you can hope to use. For 64-bit operating systems we can expect to be able to use anywhere up to 128 or 192GB of RAM, as long as your motherboard was designed to support this much. The normal calculation that should be used for deciding the upper limit of virtual memory is 1.5 times the total amount of available RAM, or 150% of your RAM, if you prefer it be said in that way. 4GB of RAM physical RAM would equate to 6GB of virtual memory, and 192GB of RAM would come out to 288GB of virtual memory.

Where is the virtual memory stored? The hard disks, and I can say that it has been like this for as long as we have had huge operating systems that required a lot of system resources to be accessible at all times. However, virtual memory was introduced to deal with the lack of memory computers had, and with the cost of RAM dropping, and with the introduction of 64BIT processors allow for substantially more RAM to be added, the usage of virtual memory is, in fact, can be less than before if you have substantially more RAM than the normal 4GB.

SSD drives are random access drives, that access memory at high speed, and write faster, as well. This would make it more useful to use for virtual memory, than using traditional spinning drives, just from the speed stand point, but I maintain my not a good idea stance when it comes to virtual memory not belonging on SSDs, and there is a very important reason why. Each of the sectors has a limited write endurance, because of the very nature of a SSD drive, as oppose to a traditional spinning drive. So, while it it possible to damage a sector on a traditional spinning drive by normal wear and tear, the drive's sectors tend to last a lot longer, and there is a lot more sectors than the SSD drives, plus with the advent of perpendicular magnetic drive writing where we write the bit deeper than we used to, the magnetic storage of a spinning drive is much more resilient than those in standard SSD drives. In short, the spinning drive, even those limited in speed by the mere fact of needing to spin to the correct position, is less prone to issues related to limited write endurance, at least, not in any way that the current SSDs suffer.

Since virtual memory is a form of RAM, and it can be expected to change at any time. Being written and changed any time, to what may seem random to most, and because SSDs have a limited write endurance, it could be expected that such an operation can negatively impact the life span of a SSD drive. These kinds of actions can render a SSD useless in a shorter span of time.

In order to combat this issue, there are a few things you can do in your computer. You can turn off virtual memory in Windows, and any other operating system, since this is operating system independent. You can add more RAM, depending on your processor and operating system. You can have up to 4GB in 32Bit environments, and anywhere up to 128 to 192GB of RAM in 64Bit environments.

If all else fails, I'd hope you all remember to make backups of any sensitive or irreplaceable data frequently, to ensure protection of data, as everything I mentioned before applies to drives in a perfect world, and as we all know, the world of technology is never entirely perfect with companies jamming in more memory into devices that should not be containing so much memory in the first place.

For those wondering about my opinion of SSD/Spinning drive hybrids, I believe that this may look really cool and useful, but looks are often deceiving, it is nothing more than a hard drive with a SSD cache that can fail faster because we end up with two points of weakness as oppose to having a single distinct point of failure. For laptops using either a spinning drive, or bigger SSD is best. For desktops, you can load Windows, or your favorite operating system from the SSD, and store your documents and programs and a second hard drive, a spinning drive. If you add a third drive for backups, you get the best of all worlds being able to restore the other drives, especially if using image backups.

Next week, I'll be talking about RAM and clock speeds, and their relationship to the motherboards, and each other.

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Host : Steve Smith | Music : Jonny Lee Hart | Editor : Steve Smith | Producer : Zed Axis Productions

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