A Closer Look and the Test Setup
The Gigabyte i-RAM is not a fancy looking card at all, with an aesthetic that look more like a basic daughter-board than a super-fast drive. But, as the story goes, it's not what's on the outside but rather on the inside that really counts. The "brains" behind the operation come from the XILINX Spartan-3 chip, which acts as both the DDR memory controller and the SATA controller as well. It also must perform the translation between the two, taking in data requests from the SATA bus, relaying that info to the memory and then back.
The i-RAM's face is mostly taken up by the four DIMM slots on the front of the card and by the large lithium battery placed directly to the right. The i-RAM's state is relayed to the user by small LEDs directly above it, telling the user whether or not the card is properly detected by the system, if its actively powered, and whether the battery is charging or already at full charge. Another LED is placed on the other end of the card, useful for displaying the battery level - the more LEDs are lit, the more power remains in the battery. In normal operation, the i-RAM receives power from the PCI slot with the backup battery providing peace of mind for any lost data -- for about 15 hours, that is.
The hard part when installing the RAM partly comes from choosing the right sticks. With slots placed so closely together, we found that we couldn't install some of the RAM we had laying around the lab. Most of these had thick heatspreaders on them which wouldn't fit side-by-side and we wound up ordering some new Kingston 1GB modules instead. This, of course, is a big caveat to any would be i-RAM buyers: the total cost one needs to consider should include not only the i-RAM, but possibly a full allotment of RAM to populate it. Size might also be a concern for some users, especially SFF owners, as the i-RAM is easily as large, if not larger, than most graphic cards including Gigabyte's own GV-NX78T256V-B (pictured above).
(NVIDIA nForce 4 SLI X16)
Intel Pentium 4 550 (3.4GHz)
2x512MB Corsair DDR2
Gigabyte GV-NX78T256V-B (GeForce 7800 GT)
Gigabyte I-RAM v1.2
4x 1GB Kingston KVR400X64C3AK Modules
Western Digital SE16 250GB HD X2
7,200 RPM SATA 300 16MB Cache
Seagate Barracuda V HD X1
7,200 RPM SATA 150 8MB Cache
Windows XP Pro SP2
nForce 4 Drivers v6.85
NVIDIA Forceware v81.98
Our test methodology for all drives we benchmarked was fairly straight forward. The procedure for all drives was to set them up as the primary boot device, format them as a standard Windows XP NTFS partition, and install Windows XP SP2 onto them. For the RAID array we utilized nVIDIA's RAID BIOS menus to configure a striped RAID 0 array with the default "maximum performance" 64K stripe size. After the drivers and benchmarks were installed, we ran a quick defrag to optimize them further. The only test in which we varied from this course was when testing Far Cry - a game that took up more space than the i-RAM could handle when combined with the OS files. For this test only, we installed the OS on a separate drive, and then benchmarked Far Cry from the secondary location.