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SoftRAM 95 (1996) (drdobbs.com)
187 points by cosmojg 42 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 61 comments

I thought I was the first to file a class action lawsuit against the makers of this in December 1995, but now I see someone else filed about a month earlier. The "driver" files were just renamed Windows files. I was 16 years old, so my dads name was used. I had provided the technical proof behind the claim, so I even got part of the attorney's fees. (Marotto v Syncronys Softcorp) https://sec.report/Document/0000950148-96-000900/

Wikipedia describes a bit of this saga [1], and the conclusion was that they were ordered to settle with the FTC and issue rebates and then:

Syncronys eventually filed for bankruptcy in July 1998 after releasing other poorly received tools. A large number of its creditors were customers who had not received their rebates for SoftRAM.

I wonder what the story was from the company perspective? Sounds like it just was a total fraud, but I can imagine a scenario where some programmer was ordered to build something that they didn't know how to implement and some manager told them to ship it anyway? I found this article about the bankruptcy [2] which has a priceless quote indicating total denial to the end:

Interestingly enough, two days before the company sought bankruptcy protection, Syncronys CEO Rainer Poertner was busy touting a new product called UpgradeAID 98 and claiming that the company's problems were history.

"It's been a really long time since SoftRAM 95. In the meantime the company has released 12 new products," he said on July 13. "We released a product in a rush with the release of Windows 95."

So far, UpgradeAID 98 has met with skepticism. The product is designed to allow consumer who upgrade their PCs to Windows 98 to revert back to Windows 95.

And this is hilarious:

Poertner, who was at lunch, could not be reached for comment.

Also, he exists! [3]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SoftRAM

[2] https://www.cnet.com/news/softram-95-maker-in-chapter-11/

[3] https://www.linkedin.com/in/rainer-poertner-37bb9511/

It was a great scam, and I have no doubt it was totally intentional. They still made money. It was a placebo, and yet people would call in to the QVC show and talk about how much faster their computer is after installing it.

Sounds like a lot of products promising "military encryption" (at least around the 90s/early 2000's)

> I wonder what the story was from the company perspective? Sounds like it just was a total fraud, but I can imagine a scenario where some programmer was ordered to build something that they didn't know how to implement and some manager told them to ship it anyway?

It was supposedly the other way around. The programmer claimed he had in fact implemented it, and management claims they really thought they were shipping a real, working product.

I worked at a company that was also in the "utilities to improve system performance" niche. In 1997, we were showing our new program at Comdex. It was a finalist for a "Best Utility" Best of Comdex award from Byte, and Jerry Pournelle wrote a very positive review, and said it had his vote for Best Utility.

We were looking for a distributor for it, and a couple companies were interested. One was Syncronys. They could get it into a lot more stores, and promote it more effectively, than the others but we were concerned about trusting them after reading the revelations about SoftRAM.

We asked them to explain how the SoftRAM thing happened and were told about the programmer faking it. We would have been pretty skeptical of that explanation--it is almost always management that fakes things--except it turned out we knew that programmer (or rather, our founder knew him personally, and some of the rest of us knew of him) and it was quite believable that he was behind this.

Our company was our founder's second company. Let's call him F. His first had been a Mac utility company founded in 1984, founded with a partner (P) he had met when he took a couple years off from school to go work in Silicon Valley. When they started the company, F came back to Pasadena and hired a bunch of his Caltech friends and acquaintances on contract to get their first product out over the summer with him as chief engineer, and P stayed in SV to handle the business end of things while F stayed in Pasadena to code and run engineering.

P did not run the business honestly, and both F and those friends and acquaintances F hired ended up getting stiffed out of a significant fraction of what they were owed when the company fell apart and P disappeared with what money they did have.

As you've probably guessed by now, P ended up at Syncronys, where he was in charge of engineering and was the developer of SoftRAM.

By the time Syncronys was wanting to make a deal to distribute our software, they had gotten rid of P, and were just going to be a distributor of software developed by others.

We did end up, after much debate, going with Syncronys. They had more reach than the other distributor we were considering, and offered a better deal (probably because they needed something decent to help fix their reputation). (I don't remember if I agreed with this, or argued for going with the other distributor).

Things ended up working out OK going with Syncronys. There were some people apprehensive about buying something from them, but the reviews were good, and made it clear the product was real, and that it was not developed by Syncronys--they were just distributing a new product from another, established Windows utility company that had a good track record. As far as we could tell, that was enough to overcome most people's apprehension.

I can't really believe this version of the story. Maybe it started like this, like P scammed the entire company, but a certain point the management had to discover the fraud, and they decided to go with it hence this went to the point when the government had to interfere. If we really want to force idea that this simply went over the CEO's head, than he was extremely incompetent, like looking and the screen, and believing what he saw on the screen, and i see this level negligence the same as doing this intentionally.

That's quite a feat, at 16 years old I was still solidly stuck in 8 bit 6809 country, and I'm fairly sure I would not have been able to follow the mechanisms at work here.

How much did you get as part of the settlement?

$2,000 from Syncronys and $2,000 from the attorneys fees (which totaled $35,000). That got me my first car, and a lesson... The attorneys always win.

I'm hoping that you're actually an attorney now!

I know several attorneys, and man, I wouldn't wish that on anybody.

That's become my feeling as well. I've always looked at them making a ton of money without needing to start a company and become somewhat envious (none of what I actually enjoy working on seems to be startup material). Then I see two of my friends pursue careers in law after becoming attorneys, and wow, I now think my 9-5 job for a tech giant is a better gig. They're miserable.

Can you elaborate? What's so bad about being an attorney?

Their work life is an unending series of zero-sum games. One path to happiness is to set your life up to minimise your exposure to zero-sum games, this is unavailable to them.

>While this seems an easy relationship to satisfy, more-complex models based on real-world performance parameters and access patterns indicate that it is, in reality, very difficult to obtain a performance boost with this method.

Now that improvements in CPU speed have outpaced improvements in storage speed, it's easier to benefit from compressed swap in ram. Linux includes "zswap"[0], which in my experience works well for postponing the severe performance degradation you otherwise get with heavy memory pressure on general desktop use. If you think you want to set "vm.swappiness=0" (which I ran for several years), you probably want to enable zswap instead. If you're running Debian, you can set it up by installing "zram-tools" (which can be configured with /etc/default/zramswap if you're not happy with the default).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zswap

zswap and zram are actually different systems. zram is a compressed ramdisk that acts like a block device and can host any filesystem (including swapfs).

zswap (nee compcache), on the other hand, is a region of memory that tries to store pages compressed instead of swapping them out -- basically a last resort before swapping. zswapped pages are not considered swap, so you have to check sysfs to see how much it's getting used. Many default configurations are pretty aggressive, allowing zswap to use up to 20% of physical memory before finally resorting to the system's configured swap space.

Storage speed has really outpaced CPU speed for the decade zswap has been out. It still has its place but if you have modern flash storage it may well be a throughput drop and power usage increase to enable zswap (particularly with the default algorithms).

Latency for pulling single pages has never really been limited by CPU performance, that's always been faster and will probably never change due to physics.

As someone running older hardware with a spinning disk drive, the comment was useful and something I might consider looking into.

At work I think I have a 2012-era ssd drive, that while speedy is probably pretty far behind modern drives. When things start thrashing in swap it's a bad time all around.

Right, compressed ram has been used heavily on android where the secondary storage has been terribly slow (emmc anyone?).

That's probably shifted as everyone moves to PCIe based storage solutions, particularly on the low-mid range phones that don't have super high performance cores.

It's not like you really want to use SSD for frequently used swap though, it's just going cause unnecessary wear.

Stick of cheapest 1tb nvme is around 115 EUR (qlc) where I live, so even if you have to change it every 2 years it still worth it.

And i measured disk usage on my desktops (home, job) and laptop, and my main dev "server" (xen, with bunch of vms).

Surprisingly my desktop had most writes to disk, but even then it would take me 6 years on the cheapest (qlc, kingston 1tb) before wearing it out

So i don't think that is a big issue, especially with how much you can improve your life, with faster swap.

both are probably true.

Windows also compresses pages to alleviate memory pressure before resorting to swap nowadays. Probably the same reason as with Android, as on lower-end hardware, especially with hard drives, compressing/decompressing isn't really noticeable, while hitting the disk is.

macOS and iOS do this too. iOS doesn't even use any traditional swap and gets away with it by putting the onus on developers to make sure their apps never go OOM when in the foreground and to deal seamlessly with apps being OOM killed when in the background.

squashfs is another linux feature that boils down to compressed swap.

it's a read only compressed file system so I am not so sure about that

It is, though. Under memory pressure the kernel will drop any page that's backed by a file, and then page it back in as needed. "swap" is just making _all_ memory be backed by files.

Squashfs is read-only, it can’t be used for swap.

Utilities that "optimize" your device experience sell, then as now. Every device ailment you could have likely has an app claiming it is the solution to that problem.

There are currently a ton of Andriod apps that are similar. - Battery Extenders. - Memory Cleaners - Disk Cleaners - Bandwidth Enhancers - Virus Checkers

All of them promise the world with flashy graphics and many do absolutely nothing, or nothing the OS doesn't do automatically.

Storage Cleaners: https://play.google.com/store/search?q=cleaner&c=apps&hl=en

Memory Boosters: https://play.google.com/store/search?q=memory%20booster&c=ap...

Bandwidth Enhancers: https://play.google.com/store/search?q=bandwidth%20enhancer&...

This entrepreneurial spirit lives on nowadays at https://www.downloadmoreram.com/


The first x86 assembler snippet, example 1(a), on page 2 is really amusing. It shows a profound lack of experience with x86.

because of inc vs. add?

More like because of the manual memcopy instead of using the dedicated rep movsd instruction I think.

I wish someone would do a study like this on e.g. cosmetics which claim to do miraculous things, but in reality rarely do anything at all. In fact I strongly suspect it all comes from the same giant vat of petroleum byproducts and the only difference is the fragrance, color, and emulsifiers.

If you just want to know the truth, not "prove" it "globally" in a "study", which essentially amounts to proving to the wolf that he is dangerous to the sheep, all you need to do is look at the ingredients list.

For extra credit, look the ingredients up and see how many of them have above-zero blue hazmat ratings.

That's not what I want though. I want an ex-industry insider with an axe to grind to tear them a new one, without mincing words, and with abundant evidence presented, similarly to how it's done in this article. It just blows my mind when some women who wouldn't eat non-organic food if their life depended on it turn around and rub petroleum byproducts into their faces every evening. Food colorings are "poison" but lipstick and hair dye are A-ok. :-)

That may not necessarily cause a significant change.

I believe that for a significant share of the cosmetics users, just doing some gym and adjusting nutrition would improve looks significantly more than cosmetics.

However, gym and diet change take effort, so it's "natural" to look for silver bullets. And looking for silver bullets is not about effects, it's about deluding oneself.

I agree on the theory that cosmetics do little or nothing. I was reading about somebody who claimed that the the general cosmetics effect can be achieved by home-made hydrating cream, and that over the counter cosmetic can't have significant effect, otherwise they would be dangerous (e.g., large amounts of certain vitamins). However, I can't find any reference.

We could have a government agency to fund it, since it’s in the public interest!

> ...achieving up to "5 compression ratios."

This is gold

You can have any five compression ratios you like, so long as they're all zero?

1:1, 2:2, 3:3... yup.

The real question is which came first, SoftRAM95 or the Johnny Mnemonic memory doubler :-)

But still, no one went to jail, and those guys walked away with millions...

I went half in on "RAM Doubler" with a friend. He had their other products that were an uninstalled and some other goofy utilities. It didn't do jack.

At the time (1996?) RAM was cheap enough to just buy another 8MB instead of some software

RAM Doubler for the Mac wasn’t a scam. Because of the piss poor way that Classic MacOS handled memory where you had to manually tell it how much memory an application could use and applications needed that much contiguous memory, you could easily find yourself with plenty of RAM but it being fragmented and unusable. Also, you needed to have as much disk space as you had RAM + any “virtual memory”.

RAM Doubler used the “System Memory” that could auto-expand and made applications think they had contiguous memory. I don’t know if the “compression” was a scam but the better memory management definitely wasn’t.

Also for PPC Macs, it was usually bundled with “Speed Doubler” - a much faster 68K emulator than what came with early PPC Macs. The operating system itself was also partially emulated, you did get real world speed improvements.

RAM definitely wasn’t cheap in 1994, I paid $500 for 16MB of extra RAM for my PPC 6100/60 for a total of 24MB (third party reseller). I remember in 1996 though buying a 32MB RAM stick for around $350 for the DX/2-66 DOS Compatibility Card in my 6100/60.

It's amazing how fast capacity and pricing changed back then, and it still happens today.

I remember my first PC clone in 1992 it was a white box with a 40MB hard disk and 2MB of RAM, within 6 months or so I spent $200 on two more 1MB 70ns SIMMs.

Our high school had a small lab running Mac IIci's with 8MB of RAM and those things were probably $8K each with display, it was a big deal to get time on them. We had more physical space than money, so we had an IBM PS/1 lab, a couple of ][e labs, and my personal favorite was a networked TRS-80 Model 3 lab where the master machine had a 10MB hard disk. Those things were beasts -- we used to play some sort of a networked crossword puzzle game while wearing an onion tied to our belts (which was the style at the time). Give me 3 B's for a quarter you'd say...


AFAIK, "I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time" is a Simpsons reference.

They didn't have white onions because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones.

Gimme five bees for a quarter!

Speed Doubler also added multi-threaded copying to the Finder long before Apple did. Without Speed Doubler you couldn’t copy a file and do anything else at the same time (aside from switch to already-running background applications). Just that was worth the price of admission

That was the third product in the bundle - Copy Doubler

It may have been a separate product in the beginning, but in the version that's on my PowerBook (and the version I had as a kid) it was built-in to Speed Doubler (which was still a separate product from RAM Doubler) https://i.imgur.com/XBw9fz3.jpg

I had a PC so this was the windows 95 version

"you had to manually tell it how much memory an application could use"

So it was the cloud, essentially.

You mean "8MB". :D I was a poor high school kid so that would have killed my lunch budget for at least a month.

I went to university with someone back in 2000 who wrote a piece of software that would do something like giving you faster ram by deliberately filling it up making the OS page out all the other stuff. No idea if it worked.

Pretty sure this was the first class action lawsuit that I received a check from...

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