Friday, March 27, 2009

Moving the Windows XP pagefile to an IDE flash drive - it works!

This has been kicked around the Web and discussed inside IT circles since CF and SD cards have dropped in price to affordable numbers. It's not a new concept, but the technology has now matured to the point where one can dabble in it and not break the bank in the process.

Long story considerably shortened: If you move the Windows XP pagefile to a drive other than the hard drive that the operating system is running on, you gain some measure of performance. Why? The hard drive heads don't have to access the operating system's pagefile at the same time they're loading a given program file, which keeps the I/O traffic jam minimized. That translates to speed.

Windows Vista does something like a mirror of the pagefile in their ReadyBoost technology, using a USB card reader to cache system data. The problem there is that the USB interface is pretty slow compared to an IDE or SATA bus, a bottleneck in itself, so it's not the best solution.

Unfortunately, Windows XP does not allow one to mount a flash card as an internal drive through a USB card reader, at least, not without some serious gyrations, and you're still stuck with that relatively-slow USB data path.

So how to accomplish it?

I have been working with two variations over the last couple of weeks, both camping out on the Secondary IDE bus, to avoid any data bandwidth conflicts with the system hard drive on the Primary IDE bus. You gain nothing moving the pagefile to a different partition on the same hard drive, and if you want the best I/O speed, you really should move the pagefile drive to a different IDE/SATA channel.

One way to accomplish this is to use a Compact Flash IDE adapter, which is a small circuit card that mounts a Compact Flash card on one end, with 40/44 pin IDE connections on the other end. There are jumpers for Master/Slave, and a separate power feed. This is the one I'm using:

Windows XP recognizes it as an internal hard drive, but there's a catch - it has to be Industrial or True-IDE flash. If not, then Windows XP will only recognize it as a removable flash drive, and will not allow one to move the pagefile to it. Garden-variety compact flash cards don't always offer the fixed disk option, so you have to be somewhat selective in the card(s) you buy for this purpose.

Once installed, it was easy to simply create a new Windows XP pagefile on the flash drive, remove the original pagefile from the system drive, and pretty much let it go with no further ado. The pagefile for this particular system is approximately 2Gb in size, so there's another 2Gb left on the card. I've moved some files in and out, and even loaded some videos to see what the performance was like. Writing was about like any other spinning platter hard drive, but reading files was pretty darned quick. I'll try to get some hard numbers later using, just to see what the transfer rates are compared to the rest of hard drives in this system. I was NOT able to format the flash drive in NTFS, so I left it as FAT32. That's fine, because NTFS does a lot more reading and writing in file management, and reading a pagefile every now and again via FAT32 isn't really a problem. I've removed all the files save for the pagefile and Windows-associated System Volume Information folder, so that the Compact Flash card's wear management features have plenty of available transistors to shuffle amongst.

How well does it work? Keep in mind this is a quad-Xeon 3.0Ghz machine with 2Gb of memory, and I doubt that it ever really hit the pagefile that hard to begin with. However, I have noticed so far that Windows boots a bit faster, and applications load a wee bit quicker. I've watched the green access LED on the IDE adapter, and it doesn't really show much activity save for boot-up and starting larger programs like Quark Express and Adobe Photoshop CS2. Brothers in Arms Earned in Blood seems to hit it a fair amount, also. It's actually working quite nicely, and I've since transferred the CF card and IDE adapter to my wife's identical workstation, with the intent of doing a long-term evaluation to see just how well a flash drive holds up. So far, so good, and it's really a minimalist install, although I mounted the CF/IDE adapter in her IBM's hard drive bay so I could see the three LEDs flashing through the front grill.

On a friend's suggestion, I also looked into a SSD hard drive, also known as DOM, or Disk-On-Module. This is a flash module that's designed to replace a spinning-platter hard drive completely, geared towards small embedded systems and notebooks. I didn't really want or need a large HD replacement, so I found an 8Gb Transcend DOM unit that's absolutely tiny, and snaps directly into the IDE motherboard socket:

Again, it installed very easily under XP Pro, but wouldn't let me format it as NTFS, so it, too, stays as FAT32. I mounted it on the Secondary IDE channel, and since it's occupying the socket, I won't be able to add any more IDE devices to that chain without some sort of cable male/female Y-adapter of sorts. I'm cool with that, because my DVD burner is the slave device on the Primary IDE channel, no problem. The rest of the hard drives in this computer are SCSI, so we're safe. I noticed that the little Transcend DOM drive has a miniature selector switch for Master/Slave, so they know some folks will probably use such an adapter cable. There were no instructions in the box with the drive, but I would imagine few would be needed.

This one performs the same way as the CF/IDE adapter combination, albeit with 8Gb of space vs. the former's 4Gb. I've left just the pagefile on this drive, too, so that wear leveling has a chance. That, and I will bump up the system memory eventually, which will automatically expand the pagefile size.

Like I said before, so far, so good. About the only reason I tried this is because people recommended against it, but since SSD technology is finally established, I want to see just how long such an implementation would hold up in day-to-day operation. It may be robust enough to actually work, or it may crap out at some point in the future - we'll see.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The weather was gorgeous today.

I couldn't just waste the sunshine and 65-degree temperature outside, so I took full advantage of it.

I had good reason to, actually. Mrs. G-98 was doing some serious spring house-cleaning with all the hazmat chemical smells thereof, so I moved the two big dogs, a boombox, some Mountain Dew, and my Midway Portable Reloading stand out to the back deck, and proceeded to resize a batch of 7mm Rimmed International (aka, 7-R) brass for use in my big Wichita Silhouette Pistol. I'd used up a goodly portion of my stash last fall during deer season, putting venison in family freezers and just plain having fun at the rifle range, so it was time to get busy.

By way of explanation, the 7mm Rimmed International cartridge was the brainchild of the late Elgin Gates, intended as a handgun round that would reliably knock down the big, 50+ pound steel ram silhouettes at 200 meters, regardless of whether you smacked it in the feet, tail, or head. That it did, quite handily, and I remember at one IHMSA match where I pulled a shot low, but it hit the ground in front of the 200 meter ram, then deflected up into the silhouette, toppling it nicely. It wasn't my best form, but I got credit for the ram, by Gawd! The 7-R and handguns chambered for it faded from the scene as IHMSA trailed off, but the round was too good to really forget. It was reincarnated after a fashion by Ken Waters as the 7-30 Waters cartridge, which gained some fame as a flat-shooting round for the now-discontinued Winchester Model 94 levergun.

From the 10" Wichita Silhouette pistol (itself an anachronism), the 7-R will deliver a 139gr Hornady boat-tail spire point at 2000+ fps, and I'm pretty sure it gets there propelled by nothing more than the shock wave created by the blast and flash of a case full of WW748. I also load a 150gr Saeco gas-checked cast bullet to a more leisurely 1600fps, but the deer are just as dead with the latter load as they are with the former.

So with the dogs sprawled at my feet on the deck, the boombox playing my Foreigner Mr. Moonlight CD, and a cold glass of iced Mt. Dew within easy reach, I set out to resize a few .30-30 Winchester brass to replace the 7-R cases I lost in the deer woods last fall, as well as resize and prep 100 or so fired 7-R cases for later on.

The 7-R looks very similar to the parent .30-30 Winchester round, save for minimal case taper, a sharper shoulder, and a longish neck intended to properly center the bullets as they jump into the barrel's rifling. When forming from the parent .30-30 brass, the cases thus created have the proper 7mm neck, but the shoulder and case taper are still reminiscent of the parent cartridge. This gets ironed out in the first firing, a process called "fireforming" which creates the final dimensions for the new round and gives it a tad more case capacity in the process.

From left to right, we have the parent .30-30 case, an intermediate 7-R case prior to fireforming, and the finished 7-R case after being fired in the pistol's chamber. The astute viewer will note the differences in the case taper and shoulder angle between the 2nd and 3rd cases:

A few hours later, I had 120 resized and prepped 7-R cases, ready to prime and load. Granted, it took me the better part of the afternoon, because I also uniform all my primer pockets, as well as deburr the case mouths for best consistency in reloading. Any cases that are too long also get trimmed to length, part of that whole consistency thing.

Now, this ain't the Sunday Smith (that's somebody else's job), but this gives the Neural Misfires reader a better idea of how the above cases appear when loaded, as well as an appreciation for the delivery system of those good-looking rounds. Behold, a vintage Wichita Silhouette Pistol, chambered in 7mm Rimmed International, 10" of absolute Douglas hexagonal-barreled, silhouette-dropping, deer-thumping, sinus-clearing, concussion-producing fun, looking for all the world like the illegitimate offspring of John Moses Browning's (PBUH) Model of 1911 and a Thompson-Center Contender:

And that's how I spent my gorgeous Sunday afternoon. I hope y'all had fun, too.