Taiwanese hardware maker Giga-byte Technology Co. Ltd. has stumbled upon a faster way to boot up PCs based on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP operating system.

Giga-byte's iRam is a PC add-in card with four DDR DRAM (double data rate dynamic RAM memory) slots that's designed to be used as a PC drive. Because the iRam uses DRAM rather than a hard-disk to store information, data can be retrieved from the drive up to 60 times faster than is possible with a hard drive, according to Giga-byte, which showed the board at the Computex exhibition in Taipei this week.

The iRam was originally designed for video and editing applications where users require fast access to very large files, but the company soon realized that the iRam had other potential applications, said Tim Handley, a marketing account manager at the company.

For users who are tired of sitting around and waiting for their Windows-based PCs to boot up, they can install Windows on the iRam and use that as the drive to start the system more quickly, Handley said. When the card is used in this way, starting Windows XP is a matter of seconds, rather than a minute or more, he said.

The iRam can also be used by gamers, who want to reduce the time required to access stored data, he said.

The iRam holds up to 4G bytes of DRAM in four memory slots. The card fits into a standard PCI slot, which provides power, and it uses a SATA (Serial ATA) connection for data transfer.

Unlike DRAM-based main memory, the iRam card doesn't lose data when the PC is switched off, said Thomas Chang, a product manager at Giga-byte. As long as the PC is plugged into a socket, a very small amount of current continues to run through some parts of the system, including the PCI slots. This provides enough power to make sure that no data is lost, he said.

If the PC is unplugged, the iRam has an on-board battery for emergency power that can last up to 12 hours, he said.

The iRam will be available in July and will be priced at around US$60 without DRAM.

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