As seekers of all-out performance, it’s only natural that we’d covet super-fast RAM for storage duties, but there have always been obstacles to this fantasy scenario. The first is cost, as RAM is crazy-expensive per gig compared with hard drives. Second, RAM is volatile memory: When it loses its electric charge all the data goes bye-bye, so if you put your OS on a RAM drive and then unplug the machine—D’oh! Simply put, RAM drives just aren’t very practical. Still, the idea is intriguing, and Gigabyte’s i-RAM actually works extremely well and overcomes the aforementioned obstacles, but we do have a few complaints.
The i-RAM card draws power from a PCI slot, but it actually pushes bits using SATA. It plugs into a SATA port and rides the SATA 150 interface—a real shame, as it totally saturates the channel. It would clearly benefit from the faster SATA 3G interface. The i-RAM ships without memory—you provide your own DDR modules, up to 1GB each. With four slots available, you can reach a maximum capacity of 4GB.
Gigabyte bypasses the volatility problem by including an onboard rechargeable battery, which charges whenever your PC is connected to a source of juice. If you unplug the PC, the i-RAM switches to the battery to keep the contents of the RAM from disappearing; the battery lasts 16 hours on a full charge.
The RAM drive is certainly fast, but it’s not as fast as you might think. For instance, it still takes 24 seconds (versus 31 seconds using a Raptor) to load a level in Doom 3, and 33 seconds to boot (versus 41 seconds on the Raptor-equipped rig). Besides, the 4GB limitation is bunk. After installing Windows XP on this drive, we had only 322MB of free space. With many game installs topping 4GB, you couldn’t even install a slow-loading game to this device.
If it held up to 8GB of memory and rode the SATA 3G interface, the i-RAM would earn a 10 verdict and a Kick Ass award. As it stands, it’s a solid product that falls short of ludicrous excellence.