Breaking Eggs And Making Omelettes

Topics On Multimedia Technology and Reverse Engineering


RAM Disk Experiment

June 1st, 2009 by Multimedia Mike

Science project: Can FATE performance be improved — significantly or at all — by running as much of the operation as possible from RAM? My hypothesis is that it will speed up the overall build/test process, but I don’t know by how much.

Conclusion and spoiler: The RAM disk makes no appreciable performance difference. Linux’s default caching is more than adequate.

There are 4 items I am looking at storing in RAM: The FFmpeg source code, the built objects, the ccache files, and the suite of FATE samples. This experiment will deal with placing the first 3 into RAM.


  • Clear ccache and compile FFmpeg on the disk. Do this thrice and collect “wall clock” numbers using the ‘time’ command line prefix,

      time `../ffmpeg/configure --prefix=install-directory -cc="ccache gcc" &&
            make && make install`

    The second and third runs should be faster due to Linux’s usual file caching in memory.

  • Restart the machine.
  • Perform 3 more runs using the existing cache.
  • Restart the machine.
  • Set up a 1GB RAM disk as outlined by this tutorial.
  • Copy the source tree into the RAM disk and configure ccache to use a directory on the RAM disk. Re-run the last step and collect numbers.
  • Bonus: restart the machine again and compile the source without ccache in order to measure the performance hit incurred by ccache when there are no files cached.

Hardware: MSI Wind Nettop with 1.6 GHz N330 Atom (dual-core, hyperthreaded); 2 GB of DDR2 533 RAM; 160 GB, 7200 RPM SATA HD with an ext3 filesystem. I don’t know a good way to graph this, so here are the raw numbers. The first number of each pair is wall clock time, the second is CPU time.

On disk:
run 1: 15:41, 14:32
run 2:  1:43,  1:12
run 3:  1:43,  1:12

On disk, after restart:
run 1:  1:50,  1:13
run 2:  1:42,  1:13
run 3:  1:43,  1:12

RAM disk (ext2):
run 1: 15:37, 14:35
run 2:  1:39,  1:12
run 3:  1:40,  1:13

From startup, no ccache:
run 1: 15:12, 14:12

Building from disk after a restart demonstrates that there is a difference of 8 real seconds during which all of the relevant files are read into the OS’s file cache. The run without ccache demonstrates that using ccache with no prior cache incurs a nearly 30-second penalty as the cache must be initialized.

And since I know you’re wondering, here’s what happens when I wipe the ccache and just let this thing rip with ‘make -j5’ multithreaded build:

On disk, with ccache, multithreaded:
run 1: 6:51, 24:12
run 2: 1:05, 2:18
run 3: 0:54, 1:41
run 4: 0:54, 1:40

I did 4 runs this time because I wanted to see if I saw a 4th set of numbers consistent with the 3rd.

I know these results may elicit a big “duh!” from many readers, but I still wanted to prove it to myself.

Posted in FATE Server, Science Projects | 5 Comments »

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