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How to move the Firefox or Chrome cache to a RAM disk and speed up surfing by 20% or more

Firefox and Chrome logosIf you're old enough, you probably remember what a RAM disk is. Back in the olden days, to squeeze every last bit of juice out of your computer (usually for the purpose of playing Doom), you could load a program into a RAM disk -- a virtual drive made out of spare RAM. As I'm sure you know, RAM is a lot faster than your hard drive

Fast forward to today, and most computers have a lot of spare RAM. Unless you're editing large multimedia files, you're probably using only a fraction of your RAM. Why don't we use a little bit of it to speed up our surfing of the Web?

Browsers save a lot of data to the hard drive. Every image, so that you don't have to download it every time you visit a page, is saved to the hard drive. That's when you experience the 'grind' of loading (or reloading) a tab that you haven't looked at recently -- the browser is loading data from the hard drive.

With a RAM disk, you can make the browser always load from memory. This speeds up the entire browsing experience by a significant margin. The browser starts in a flash, switching between tabs feels faster, and page load times can be reduced by 20% or more!

To get started, you need Dataram's excellent RAMDisk software. It's free, unless you want to create RAM disks over 4GB in size (which you really don't need to do).

Once that's installed, you need to configure your RAM disk. Size-wise, 500MB should be fine -- and make it a FAT32 partition. Click 'Start RAMDisk' at the bottom.

Click through to the Load and Save tab and enable Load Disk Image at Startup and Save Disk Image on Shutdown; the default filenames are fine. You don't need to enable Autosave. If any warnings are generated, don't worry about it -- just click OK.

Now, head over to My Computer (Start > Computer) and note the drive letter of the new RAM disk. Double click it and create a new folder called BrowserCache -- in other words, you are creating E:\BrowserCache (where 'E' might be another letter).

Finally, it's time to move your Firefox or Chrome cache onto the new RAM drive.

Google Chrome

  • Close all open Chrome tabs and windows
  • Right click your Chrome shortcut (the one you use to open the browser), select Properties
  • In the Target window, move your cursor to the end of the path, after chrome.exe
  • Type --disk-cache-dir="E:\BrowserCache" (it might be D: or F: or...) Make sure there is no trailing slash
  • Click OK
  • Click the shortcut to launch Chrome

Mozilla Firefox

  • Type about:config into the address bar, accept the warning ("I'll be careful, I promise!")
  • Right click > New > String
  • Type browser.cache.disk.parent_directory into the box and press OK
  • Type the path of your BrowserCache directory -- E:\BrowserCache (where 'E' might be another letter); press OK
  • Close all open Firefox tabs and windows
  • Open the browser again

Benchmarks & conclusions

Measuring the real-world improvement of a RAM disk is tricky. Using the Chromium Benchmarking tool, I found that page load times were reduced by around 20%. Shutting down and restarting the browser is also a lot quicker.

I found it hard to measure the performance improvement of tab switching. I think tab content is still loaded from the operating system swap/page file, which is still stuck on the hard drive.

If you have any other tips for speeding up the browser cache, leave a comment!

Tags: browsers, cache, disk cache, DiskCache, google chrome, GoogleChrome, mozilla firefox, MozillaFirefox, performance, ram, ram disk, ram drive, RamDisk, RamDrive