Windows on USB Flash or CF Practical?

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Chocolinx
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Windows on USB Flash or CF Practical?

Post by Chocolinx » Thu Nov 29, 2007 2:40 pm

That is the question. I was thinking about it lately and even tried googling some facts about it. But something still profounds me. How reliable would this be? I did read in some places that you can't use it as a main boot drive and really it's only to be used as a backup, should your windows ever crash.

But with the benifits of faster access time, USB Flash or CF is definitely interesting. I was just wondering, would the USB or CF flash just die on me after a few months of usage? Or would it at least last a year? 4GB per year for me would be so bad. But if it keeps on dying like every few months that'd just be horrible. 2 years would be awesome.

So has anyone ever tried this for long term use? Because all the articles I read are really really really short term.

Felger Carbon
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Re: Windows on USB Flash or CF Practical?

Post by Felger Carbon » Thu Nov 29, 2007 3:08 pm

Chocolinx wrote:So has anyone ever tried this for long term use? Because all the articles I read are really really really short term.
I fought the good fight for CF boot twice. The second time, I got it to work. It was incredibly slow. That's why my use was short-term and not long-term.

Imagine something as slow as you would permit a computer to work. Now imagine something 20 to 50 times slower than that. Now imagine the reality of a CF "C" drive, which is even slower than that!

Now do you understand why there are no articles on long-term use?

There are now very very expensive 32G to 64G SSD drives that work better. How much better? I dunno, and I'm not gonna invest one or two thousand bucks to find out. Once bit, twice shy. :cry:

frostedflakes
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Post by frostedflakes » Thu Nov 29, 2007 3:31 pm

What speed CF were you using? I always figured the higher-end ones (266x, ~40MBps) would be pretty decent for Windows usage. But anything slower than about 10MBps I'd imagine would be unbearable.

I've worked with some older 4200RPM notebook drives that used to be highly recommended here on SPCR for their low noise (Toshiba MK4025GAS, for example). I don't think they were capable of sustained writes of more than 20-25MBps, which is probably comparable to or slightly worse than a high-end CF. Yet these drives were still able to run Windows pretty well. I don't see why a CF with slightly better read/write and much lower access time wouldn't be able to either.

Unfortunately I have nothing useful to offer regarding endurance, sorry. I know SSDs are supposed to basically last forever, but I'd assume they have much more sophisticated wear-leveling algorithms than consumer flash memory.

MoJo
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Post by MoJo » Thu Nov 29, 2007 4:01 pm

The really fast ones do work, but even they are slow. Some of the latest SSDs are better, but expensive.

frostedflakes
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Post by frostedflakes » Thu Nov 29, 2007 4:03 pm

Yeah I just read about Copper's experiences using a 266x CF in the thread below this and it seems like slow random write speeds may be the biggest bottleneck for Windows on a flash drive.

psiu
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Post by psiu » Thu Nov 29, 2007 4:20 pm

I wonder if there was some sort of hangup with configuration though--only because I use a CF->IDE setup for my router and had some trouble with DMA errors...basically it would take 5 minutes to boot.

Once I got that straightened out though it was fast--granted this is a 12MB custom Linux distro, but still.

Though on second thought--just picked up some USB flash drives at Radio Shack for $4.99/ea about 2 weeks ago, 512MB. Been experimenting with various flavors of Linux on there, and so far DSL, PCLOS and Puppy all boot pretty quick.

So really...I dunno. Seems I would make the OS and apps go on the boot drive, and then files onto a quiet hard drive. And I would assume a hefty helping of RAM would help matters greatly.

frostedflakes
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Post by frostedflakes » Thu Nov 29, 2007 4:40 pm

DSL and Puppy are completely different beasts than XP. They probably only have tens of megabytes of data to read/write at boot, versus hundreds for XP, which is why they work good even on slow flash drives. :)

Felger Carbon
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Post by Felger Carbon » Thu Nov 29, 2007 7:38 pm

frostedflakes wrote:What speed CF were you using?
I used a 2G version of the same Transcend x266 that Copper used. But my boot process was incredibly slow, and that was just the time spent in bios before Windows started booting! This delay may be mobo-bios related; my bios was evidently checking for good disks by performing some small random writes - exactly what you don't want to do with CF flash.

frostedflakes
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Post by frostedflakes » Thu Nov 29, 2007 7:56 pm

Hmm yeah it sounds like something to do with how the BIOS detects the disk. Might have been hardware related, though, you're sure you didn't have a bum adapter or CF card?

Felger Carbon
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Post by Felger Carbon » Thu Nov 29, 2007 8:50 pm

frostedflakes wrote:...you're sure you didn't have a bum adapter or CF card?
I'm not sure about anything except that (a) it worked, and (b) it worked incredibly slowly. A bum adapter that nonetheless passes the bios test??

sea2stars
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Post by sea2stars » Fri Nov 30, 2007 8:21 am

You can modify a standard XP install to use some of the attributes of XP Embedded, which was designed for use on CF; especially EWF. I played around with it a while ago and it does the trick, although I haven't played around with it much since I stared using Linux.

EWF(Enhanced Write Filter) is another XPe exclusive component proven to improve boot times, increase performance, and minimize the amount of writes to a CF card. EWF allows the operating system to boot and read from a read-only source, with temporary data being written onto overlays. Users accessing this computer are able to make any changes they wish, with no actual modification to the read-only source. If desired, the overlays can then be written onto the protected volume. EWF can be activated by implementing the EWF components into the XPe image. Previously exclusive to the Windows XP Embedded operating system, there is now a method to port this valuable feature into standard Windows XP. The detailed procedure can be obtained from Silvio Fiorito's "Embedding" Windows XP documentation.

And a couple of links I have lying around:

Install Windows on a CompactFlash Card

EWF Tool

Brian
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Post by Brian » Fri Nov 30, 2007 7:51 pm

I recently finished a zero-moving-parts build that uses CF, and I'm happy with it.

I have a 2GB Transcend 120X CF card plugged into a $5 CF-IDE adapter. The system is a 750MHz P3 with .5GB RAM, and performance is perfectly acceptable, most of the time.

Windows XP boots up quickly, and I'm not worried about killing the card with excessive writes. I just took a typical XP install (with nLite to remove only a few components) and disabled anything that makes a lot of disk writes. Event Log, Skype Extras Manager, the pagefile.

My $5 CF-IDE adapter doesn't do DMA. Sometimes, if I try to do CPU and disk intensive tasks at the same time, the system will hitch for 5-10 seconds, which really is a very long time. So the system performance is good except while I'm reading from the disk, when it becomes totally uncool.

Anyway, you asked about long-term reliablity. Ask me in a year. All I can tell you now is that hard drives offer better performance, but my CF machine is servicable as an office box.

Oddly enough, the biggest upgrade my CF box could use is a hard drive for bulk storage. A 2GB card can hold an OS and all your programs and documents, but there's little room left over for music.

jojo4u
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Post by jojo4u » Wed Dec 05, 2007 5:01 am

I prefer USB pen drives over CF. See my posts below. The stick running Linux is fine after 1 year of daily use.
viewtopic.php?t=39278
viewtopic.php?t=37678

Turas
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Post by Turas » Wed Dec 05, 2007 7:47 am

The DMA Mode seems to be real important. I have read about 5 or 6 articles on this and they all came up with slow results unless they used a card that actually suppoted DMA. Apearently not all of the CF cards do and it is very difficult to figure out as it is not always advertised.

I was going to do this myself and RAID a couple of them together to get better speed but in the end i decided it was not worth the hassle and went strait for real SSD drives.

Brian
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Post by Brian » Wed Dec 05, 2007 4:33 pm

Not only does the CF card have to support DMA (which mine does), the CF adapter apparently has to as well. Mine does not. The cheapest adapters I found that specified DMA support are from Addonics.

michaelb
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Post by michaelb » Sun Dec 23, 2007 5:33 pm

Brian wrote:Not only does the CF card have to support DMA (which mine does), the CF adapter apparently has to as well. Mine does not.
Here's some comments on why, apparently some older cards didn't bother connecting all pins or including all pins: http://lkml.org/lkml/2006/5/24/46

I have seen some on ebay for $4 shipped where the PC board says DMA on it. Hopefully they were made recently and really have all pins connected.

But from other posts on various forums, it seems even expensive adapters with expensive CF cards don't always work with DMA/UDMA.

==EDIT/Update:

Got three different cheap CF-IDE adapters from ebay. Two don't work at all, and the other seems to be using UDMA, but is still slow and causes problems. I'll try to post more when have something working, so can better compare to what didn't work.

But right now, I don't recommend the cheap ebay adapters. For me, lots of frustration and time wasted, and $20 total that could have gone towards one adapter from Addonics. (I plan to use more than one.)

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