A few words of caution first: Although setting up a RAM drive is not hard, it does require an understanding of your computer’s file system and such things as the difference between partitions, hard drives, and folders, and between hard drives and memory. You also need to know how to initialize and format a new hard drive. If you understand these things, setting up a RAM drive should not be difficult.
Your first task is to decide on which RAM drive software to use. There are over a dozen choices, most of them for Windows. You can find a list of RAM drive software in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_RAM_drive_software. This writer has been using a RAM drive for two years, using RAMDisk software by the Dataram corporation, and so the instructions that follow for installing a RAM drive are for Dataram’s RAMDisk. It’s free if you’re creating a RAMDisk that’s no larger than four gigabytes; this is more than you’ll need for most Second Life purposes. I have Firestorm and Singularity viewers and caches for both Second Life and OpenSim on my RAMDisk, but all of this takes up only 3.5 gigabytes. To create a RAMDisk larger than four gigabytes, you’ll need to buy the paid version for $18.95.
This article tells how to configure RAMDisk to work manually. You’ll need to start it before starting your Second Life viewer and you’ll need to stop it afterward, but it can also be configured to run automatically when you start Windows. If you don’t have a fast computer, however, automatic operation can slow down starting and stopping Windows by several minutes, and if you don’t have a large amount of RAM, having a RAM Drive running all the time will slow down your computer. For most people, starting and stopping it manually is the better choice.
You will install the software exactly like any other software, except you should be sure to install it as Administrator. Installing it doesn’t create the RAM Drive. You’ll do that after the software is installed.
Start up RAMDisk and click the Settings tab if you’re not already on it. You’ll see something like the picture at the top of this article.
Disk Size is the size RAMDisk you want to create. If you’re using a 32-bit version of Windows, you’re generally safe using any memory your computer has over four gigabytes. If you’re using a 64-bit version of Windows, you should use Task Manager to find out how much memory your system uses. To find how much memory you can allocate to your RAMDisk, subtract the highest memory your computer ever is likely to use from your total RAM. For example, if you have 16 gigabytes of RAM and the most you’ve ever seen your computer use is six gigabytes, then you can make your RAMDisk as large as 10 gigabytes. In the screenshot above, the RAMDisk is 3,000 megabytes (three gigabytes). Set the Disk label to whatever name you want it to be. Select FAT32 Partition and Windows Boot Sector.
Now click the Load/Save tab. Under Image File, you'll enter the name and location of the file in which RAMDisk will store your Second Life information when RAMDisk isn’t running.
If you’re going to start and stop RAMDisk manually, then all the Load and Save options in this section should be unchecked. Important: Be very careful about this. If you set it to load automatically or if you don’t stop it and you uninstall the RAMDisk software, your RAMDisk will continue to run even though the software is no longer installed.
Next click the Options tab. The important setting here is the last one. Make sure that you put a check mark at “Do not start RAMDisk when Windows starts”. In this tutorial we are covering only the manual RAMDisk. Depending on your preferences, you may want to check some of the other options, but they won’t affect your RAMDisk itself.
Formatting your RAMDisk
Your RAMDisk is a virtual hard drive, so it will have to be formatted like any hard drive. The first time you run RAMDisk, you will have to initialize and format the new drive. You can give the drive any name and drive letter you want. This writer recommends a drive letter that’s high in the alphabet so it’s never used for other purposes, such as inserting USB drives. For most people, any drive letter after H should probably be safe.
Second Life on your RAMDisk
There are two ways to use your RAMDisk with Second Life: by putting just the Second Life cache on your hard drive and by installing Second Life on your hard drive. You can do either one or both. This writer does both.
If you’re going to install Second Life on the RAMDisk, then you’ll need to uninstall your current Second Life viewer. The RAMDisk should work with any viewer. After uninstalling it, reinstall it but on your RAMDisk instead of your C Drive. I’ve created a separate Program Files (x86) folder on my RAM drive, but that’s not necessary.
If you're using the Firestorm viewer, you can backup your Firestorm configuration before uninstalling it and then restore it after installing it on your hard drive.
To install your Second Life cache on the RAMDisk, first create a cache folder on your RAMDisk. After you’ve done this, set your viewer to use that as the cache folder. On the official Second Life viewer go to Preferences/Advanced and click Browse. Browse to your new cache folder and click OK. Make sure that the amount of space you’re allocating to the cache in the viewer will fit in the RAMDisk you’ve created, then close the viewer. When you restart it, it should show your RAMDisk folder as the cache.
Using your RAMDisk
Before starting up your viewer, start up RAMDisk. After that, you can run your viewer normally. You should notice that textures rez a lot faster than with a traditional hard drive installation.
You can also set up your RAMDisk to start up automatically with Windows. It’s a lot more convenient, but it’s only suitable for fairly fast computers with a lot of free memory because it can dramatically increase the time it takes Windows to start and stop. For example, on this writer’s computer with a 3.0GHz i7 quad core computer with 24GB of memory, a 6 gigabyte RAMDisk only slows Windows start and stop times by about 30 seconds, but on his 3.0Ghz Core 2 Duo dual core computer with 8GB of memory, a four gigabyte RAMDIsk slows Windows start and stop times by several minutes.
If you've configured it correctly and have haven't allocated too much memory to your RAMDisk, it should significant speed up your Second Life experience without impacting the performance of your computer when using other applications.