I've heard that Windows Vista's ReadyBoost and SuperFetch features can speed up my PC. Is this true, and if so how much improvement can I expect?
You hear correctly. Two of Vista's most useful new features are ReadyBoost and SuperFetch. The first lets you use an 'ordinary' USB memory key as additional RAM memory. Provided your USB key has a minimum read speed of 2.5Mbps and a minimum write speed of 1.5Mbps, you can insert it into a vacant USB port, select the 'Speed up my system' option from the resultant pop-up menu, and hey presto.
The second of these features, SuperFetch, causes your PC to load commonly used programs much faster. It monitors which applications you use the most and preloads them into system memory so they're ready to launch when you need them. It also runs background processes such as disk defragmenting at lower priorities so they don't interfere as much with your everyday tasks.
How much of an improvement the two features will provide to you depends very much on your system configuration, but in our tests, ReadyBoost and SuperFetch provided a definite improvement in performance.
Our first test involved running the PCMark 2005 synthetic benchmark application on our Vista-equipped Dell XPS M1210 laptop, which has 512MB of system memory. On the first run, without ReadyBoost, the laptop scored 2,240 in PCMark 2005, and on the second run with a 2GB USB key and ReadyBoost enabled, it achieved 2,414 -- an eight per cent increase in performance.
SuperFetch, in combination with ReadyBoost, seems to improve system responsiveness significantly. We ran a selection of our favourite applications a number of times to see what improvement we could get, and saw positive results. Adobe Photoshop CS2 took 31 seconds to launch on our first attempt, which was reduced to 14 seconds, then to 7 seconds on our second and third runs.
As we said, your own mileage will vary, but we believe SuperFetch and ReadyBoost are great additions to Windows.