Faster PC with “multi-disking”

External disk and a 13-port USB 3.0 hub

You can definitely do this without a 13-port USB hub, but they are cool to look at (but hot to the touch). Two USB 3.0 thumb drives should do for most people. Even one will help.

I have not seen this anywhere else, but I am sure I am not the first or only human to think of this. Well, probably not. I’ll tell why I did it and how it helped me, then you can see if it is useful to you or someone you know.

What is multi-disking? I actually came up with that word just today, nobody has told me about it. It means I distribute the applications with the most disk access on different drives (either hard drives, SSDs or Flash drives). In my case, I have games on an external hard disk, My Documents on a smallish external SSD, and my browser on a thumb drive. Because the computer can read/write to different disks/drives simultaneously, it does not get clogged up in queues and the speed improves. If this is enough for the revelation to reach you, off you go! Otherwise, it is a long story as usual.

***

I bought my ASUS N56V back in May 2012, so it is not super old (look, Sims 3 was already around!) but it is well past its warranty. All the more reason for me to not take it apart if I can avoid it. (That, and the computers I have taken apart tended to end in a loud crack or a rain of sparks followed by acrid smoke. Not a soldering iron man, me.) What then could I do when it started slowing down? For the last months, I had had more and more episodes where it simply stopped responding for several seconds, and then responded sluggishly for a while longer.

Using the Resource Monitor that comes with Windows 7, I quickly suspected the disk activity. I found that if I had several things going on simultaneously, and/or the computer had been running for a while without logging off or restarting, it would have used almost all the physical memory. (6 GB in my case – if you actually can add memory to your PC, this is probably the most dramatic speed increase you can get, but this can be impossible on a laptop.) When I opened a web page, for instance, it would start writing content from memory to “pagefile”. You can read about virtual memory elsewhere if you wonder what a page file is, but basically when the memory is full, it uses the hard disk instead. The hard disk of a laptop is easily a thousand times slower than the memory, so no surprise things ground to a halt.

Again, if you are a screwdriver person, you will probably have heard that you can replace your hard disk with a SSD (Solid State Drive) which is slower than memory but many times faster than a hard disk. But again, this is for the screwdriver folks, and can cost a pretty penny. Also, Windows may wake up after the surgery and decide that it is on a new computer, and require you to register again. Windows is not free, contrary to common belief, and if you don’t have the documentation for your personal installation, Microsoft could think you have stolen their Windows and shut it down in whole or in part. Of course after 7 years, my documentation was well and truly lost.

I did however have some peripherals lying around, including a handful of 32 GB USB 3.0 memory sticks that I bought when they were on sale. They did not cost many breads each, so I had a bunch, and an external USB 3.0  hub to connect them all to the PC. Now, the 3.0 is fairly important here as it is 10 times faster than 2.0. If your computer only supports 2.0, you may see less or no improvement here, I am not sure. But you also have an amazing computer to have survived that long. In 2012, my computer already had 2 separate built-in USB 3.0 controllers with separate ports. Most computers still running should have at least one.

First I tried to move the page file to the external disk. Windows cheerfully confirmed that this was done, but it did not work. This is because when you start Windows, it starts the page file before it starts the USB (unless you boot from an USB – this is an alternative that you can find elsewhere by searching from “boot windows from USB” or words to that effect.)

So I settled for less. Why settle for less? Because I am cheap and lazy. I had already put my games on an external hard disk, because games are big and the hard disk is not. Plus it fills up with Windows updates, temporary files and other gruff that you have to clear out from time to time, and some of it will crash the machine if you clear it out. (Use a certified disk cleaner, like the one that comes with Windows and is called “disk cleanup”.) But even with that, small disk is small.

Next thing I outsourced to a USB device was My Documents. This folder and its many subfolders, are used by Windows and many programs (including many games) so it sees a fair bit of use. You can find detailed tutorials on how to move it to another disk (search “how to move documents folder to another drive”), others have illustrations and even videos about this. It can be pretty big so check in advance that you have a big enough device. Some of the content may be ready for archive anyway, but luckily I had room on my biggest device.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I installed my favorite browser on a thumb drive. I was lucky that my favorite browser is Vivaldi (made in Norway, by the way). It has a choice for “standalone” in advanced setup. It actually transferred my saved passwords from the hard disk after installation, but you can choose this. With other browsers (and most people have another browser) you will probably want to go to PortableApps or search for “install browser on usb windows” for tutorials for your particular browser. The nice thing about PortableApps is that you may browse it for other FREE software that you can install to other USB drives to take even more load off your main disk. But My Documents and your browser are typically used a lot, so these two should make a difference. They sure did for me!

***

Why did this break through the wall of pauses, stuttering and crawl? Because multitasking. The USB has its own controller (in my case two, so I put one drive on each of them, but even one should help). Before yesterday, when I clicked on a link, Windows checked to see if I had spare RAM memory. If there was too little, it would start writing the memory to disk. The same disk that it was trying to read the browser code from. (The browser has a lot of code for displaying all kinds of things like different fonts, different sizes, pictures, formatting etc etc, so it reads all of this from the same disk that is busy writing.) A hard drive has a physical read/write head (kind of like an old gramophone) that races furiously from place to place on the hard disk when trying to do two things at once. Back and forth, back and forth. When it only needs to do ONE thing, it can stop scurrying, and the speed increases dramatically.

If you have a computer with two physical disks, you could simply move the pagefile or the browser to a different disk, but in my case (and almost all laptops with “two” disks) they are actually different partitions on the same physical disk, and moving things between them will just slow it down even more. Thus my decision to “outsource” to flash drives.

So now I can have Sims 4 running in the background, installed on disk G:, with its save files and other data in My Documents on drive M:, while I use my browser on drive I: running under Windows on disk C:. In addition I have Windows ReadyBoost on drives H: and N:. Yes, I have a lot of drives, most of them cheap 32 GB but some larger or smaller. Two 16 GB are actually better than one 32 GB for ReadyBoost, which I and many others have written about already. I just assumed you already had that. But moving your browser is probably more important than ReadyBoost if you use the Web a lot.

My computer is running smoothly again, thanks to the wonders of multi-disking. And it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

2 thoughts on “Faster PC with “multi-disking”

  1. This is a great idea. Im going to check whether my computer supports USB 3.0 (bought it in late 2012, but it was refurbished) and try this if it does. It’s gotten very slow, and when I look at the resource monitor, it’s nearly always disk I/O that’s maxed out, not CPU or RAM.

    • Refurbished in 2012 and still going strong? That’s impressive! And I thought mine was well into retirement age…
      I would love if you could come back with your experience if you try this, whether it succeeds or fails.

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