Windows Vista FAQ

Vista Hardware

Q. What is the Windows Experience Index?
Q. What's this I hear about thumb drives speeding performance?
Q. What do ReadyBoost, ReadyDrive, and SuperFetch do?
Q. When will we begin to see hybrid hard drives?
Q. What specs must a USB flash drive possess in order to work with ReadyBoost?
Q. I bought a USB flash drive that (according to its packaging) can access data at 12 mbps. But Windows says the drive still isn't fast enough to work with ReadyBoost. What's going on?
Q. How big a flash drive should I buy to get the most out of ReadyBooost?
Q. Can I use more than one flash drive for ReadyBoost?
Q. Are there any other interesting bits of Vista-friendly hardware?

Q. What is the Windows Experience Index?

A. This built-in performance analyzer is found in the Control Panel under Performance Information and Tools. Your Windows Experience Index is the lowest of five scores assigned to your system's CPU, memory, basic graphics capability, 3D graphics power, and hard disk speed. Microsoft hopes that the Windows Experience Index will replace the lengthier enumeration of system requirements found on software boxes. Instead of reading that a game requires at least 1GB of RAM, a Pixel Shader 2.0 graphics board, and a 2-GHz CPU, for example, you'd see that a game requires a WEI score of, say, 3.2 or better.

Q. What's this I hear about thumb drives speeding performance?

A. Instead of shelling out for extra RAM, you may be able to give your Vista machine a bit of a boost by using a USB thumb drive. A Windows feature called ReadyBoost lets your PC use free memory on a USB flash drive to augment RAM. You'll need, at a minimum, a drive that has 256MB of free space and can read data at 2.5 megabits per second and write data at 1.5 mbps; to qualify for a Windows Vista logo, the drive must have 500MB of space and read/write speeds of 5 mbps/3 mbps.

You'll soon start to see flash memory boosting speed in other ways, too, thanks to the ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive technologies built into Vista.

Q. What do ReadyBoost, ReadyDrive, and SuperFetch do?

A. SuperFetch, a new memory manager for Windows, uses available memory to proactively cache data that you're likely to need. Eventually, it learns which applications and data you (and any other users who log in to your machine) habitually use and when you use them, and it does so on a per-user basis.

ReadyBoost makes more memory available to SuperFetch by creating new memory pages on USB flash drives and using the flash memory in hybrid hard disks.

ReadyDrive uses the Non-Volatile RAM cache on a hybrid drive to store critical data during state transitions such as when booting your PC or resuming from standby. Before shutting down, Vista transfers the critical data your PC will use for booting or resuming into that NVRAM cache. As a result, the PC doesn't have to wait for a hard disk to spin up before it can start loading data.

Q. When will we begin to see hybrid hard drives?

A. Samsung and Seagate hope to have hybrid hard drives containing up to 256MB of built-in flash memory ready to ship in notebooks when Vista is released.

Q. What specs must a USB flash drive possess in order to work with ReadyBoost?

A. The drive must support USB 2.0 and must be able to access data at 3.5 megabits per second for 4-kilobit random reads uniformly across the entire device, and at 2.5 mbps for 512-kilobit random writes uniformly across the device. As a practical matter, it's tough to find these specs for a flash drive before you buy it, so make sure that your vendor is reasonable about returns. Microsoft has said that it plans to work with manufacturers to develop a ReadyBoost certification program so that consumers can determine, before buying a flash drive, whether they can use ReadyBoost with it.

Q. I bought a USB flash drive that (according to its packaging) can access data at 12 mbps. But Windows says the drive still isn't fast enough to work with ReadyBoost. What's going on?

A. There are several reasons why you may be running into the problem. The Vista specs are for random performance, whereas the specs you see listed may measure sequential performance. (Some devices do great on sequential reads, but struggle on random reads.) Another issue may be inconsistent performance across your drive. Some flash drives carry 128MB of extremely fast "lightning flash" on part of the drive, but slower memory on the rest of the drive.

Q. How big a flash drive should I buy to get the most out of ReadyBooost?

A. That depends on how much RAM you have on your system. The smallest cache that ReadyBoost can use is 256MB; the largest is 4GB. Microsoft recommends establishing a flash-memory-to-system-RAM ratio of anywhere from 1:1 to 2.5:1. For a system containing 512MB of RAM, it follows that 512MB to 1.25GB of flash memory will be productive. Since ReadyBoost maxes out at 4GB, any amount of flash memory beyond that ceiling won't provide a boost, regardless of your PC's quantity of RAM.

Q. Can I use more than one flash drive for ReadyBoost?

A. No. Microsoft has limited ReadyBoost to one device at a time.

Q. Are there any other interesting bits of Vista-friendly hardware?

A. You'll see notebooks with external displays that use Microsoft's Sideshow technology to run some of the same kinds of gadgets available in the Windows Sidebar, without requiring your PC to be on. Other manufacturers will eventually use Sideshow to power color-display-equipped remotes for Media Center systems.

Windows Rally should simplify setup, security, and management of networked devices. Rally technologies include Windows Connect Now for easy Wi-Fi setup; Plug and Play Extensions (PnP-x) for quick installation of network-connected devices; and the Link Layer Topology Discovery protocol for easy discovery of networked devices. Microsoft has demonstrated Rally-ready wireless cameras that nearby PCs automatically discovered and could download new images from in real time. This development suggests that a working wireless digital camera is not far from reality, though experts currently think that wireless USB is a better technology than Wi-Fi for short-range cable replacement.

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