Gigabyte has launched i-RAM, a hard disk storage alternative based on fast DDR SDRAM chips rather than slow-but-stable Flash memory.
There's a catch, of course: the company admitted the product was not suitable for systems that are turned off for long periods of line. Or for anyone who wants more than 4GB of storage capacity.
i-RAM is a PCI card containing four DIMM slots ready for up to 4GB of 200, 266, 333 or 400MHz DDR SDRAM. To the host PC, however, it registers as a 1.5Gbps Serial ATA hard drive. The storage connects to the host system via its own SATA cable - the PCI bus is used for power. The board contains a Xilinx Spartan Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) chip that converts Serial ATA instructions into memory read and write requests, and vice versa.
The card also has a 1700mAh rechargeable battery on board to power the memory when the host system is turned off. Gigabyte said the card's own power source will last for 10-16 hours. After that, of course, the memory is wiped.
It's an old idea. Partitioning off a section of a computer's memory and treating it as a virtual hard drive is a technique that a variety of operating systems and standalone utilities have provided for years. However, the trick's usefulness has always been limited by the need to copy the data to a non-volatile medium before the computer is powered down, and by the fact that it's generally been better to devote the RAM to short-term memory rather than temporary storage.
Samsung, for one, is already looking at equipping hard drives with Flash memory to boost boot speeds. Indeed, Gigabyte claimed storing Windows XP on the i-RAM rather than the hard drive would allow the OS to start up in one-thirteenth the time it takes to boot off a 7200rpm SATA hard drive.
Having an i-RAM doesn't preclude system owners from incorporating a hard drive, so the card's capacity shouldn't be an issue. With the right motherboard, the i-RAM is RAID compatible. ®