1995/ August 1995
|Operating system||Microsoft Windows|
SoftRAM and SoftRAM95 were system software products which claimed to "double" the available memory in Microsoft Windows without the need for a hardware upgrade. However, it later emerged that the program didn't even attempt to do what it claimed to do. In July 1996, the developer, Syncronys settled charges brought by the Federal Trade Commission of "false and misleading" claims in relation to the capability of the software. The product was rated the third "Worst Tech Product of All Time" by PC World in 2006.
Most memory errors in Windows 3.x were caused by the first megabyte of memory in a PC, the conventional memory, becoming full. Windows must allocate a Program Segment Prefix (PSP) in this area of memory for each program started. Some utilities prevented DLLs from allocating memory here, leaving more space for user programs. This was a standard technique also used by other memory optimisation tools. SoftRAM also claimed to increase the amount of virtual memory available by compressing the pages of virtual memory stored in the swap file on the hard disk, which has the added effect of reducing the number of swap file reads and writes. The software also increases the size of the Windows page file, something easily achievable for free and without the use of additional software by changing system settings.
When Windows 95 was launched, it was widely reported that software for the operating system would be "memory hungry", requiring at least 4 megabytes of RAM and preferably 8. Syncronys positioned SoftRAM as a cheaper alternative to buying more memory for those who would otherwise be unable to run Windows 95.
In December 1995, the German computing journal c't disassembled the program and determined that it did not even attempt to do what it was meant to do. In fact, the data passed through the VxD completely unaltered so that no compression whatsoever could have taken place. The actual drivers were in fact slightly modified versions of code examples taken from Microsoft's "Windows Development Kit". Still, the program would try to pretend that it increased system resources, by silently increasing the size of the swap file on Windows 3.1 and by giving false information on the current state of the system. Even worse, the program was compiled with the debug flag on and so runs slower than the original driver from Microsoft. A further test by PC Magazine revealed that SoftRAM took the same amount of time to move through systems that contained varying amounts of RAM; leading the magazine's technical editor to call SoftRAM completely "devoid of value". Another study by Dr. Dobb's Journal came to the same conclusions. Tests by PC World determined that the program did little more than increase the size of the hard drive cache—something that a knowledgeable user could easily do without buying additional software. Furthermore, the company used the "Designed for Windows 95" logo on the packaging when the product had not been approved by Microsoft for use with the operating system.
The Federal Trade Commission began an investigation in late 1995. It ultimately concluded that Syncronys' claims about SoftRAM were "false and misleading". It also concluded that "SoftRAM95 does not increase RAM in a computer using Windows 95; nor does the product enhance the speed, capacity, or other performance measures of a computer using Windows 95". The investigation prompted the company to recall both SoftRAM and SoftRAM95 from the market in December 1995. Several individual customers filed suit against the company as well. Syncronys settled with the FTC and the suing customers in 1996. As part of the FTC settlement, it agreed to give rebates to any customers who requested them.
Syncronys eventually filed for bankruptcy in July 1998 after releasing other poorly received tools. A large number of its creditors were customers who hadn't received their rebates for SoftRAM.
- Shapiro, Howard (July 10, 1996). "Computer Software Manufacturer Agrees to Settle Charges of Software Misrepresentation" (Press release). Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved May 9, 2016.
- Tynan, Dan (May 26, 2006). "The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time". PC World. Retrieved May 9, 2016.
- Russinovich, Mark; Cogswell, Bryce; Schulman, Andrew (August 1, 1996). "Inside SoftRAM 95". Dr. Dobb's Journal. Retrieved May 9, 2016.
- Storm, Ingo T.; Persson, Christian (December 1995). "Placebo forte! Was wirklich hinter SoftRAM 95 steckt". c't (in German). Archived from the original on April 11, 2005. Retrieved May 9, 2016. English version: Storm, Ingo T.; Persson, Christian (December 1995). "Placebo plus! The truth behind SoftRAM 95". c't. Archived from the original on January 11, 2005. Retrieved May 9, 2016.
- Seltzer, Larry (November 7, 1995). "SoftRAM95 Does Not Compress RAM In PC Magazine Lab Tests". PC Magazine. Archived from the original on February 23, 2001. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
- Nelson, Brian (January 19, 1996). "CNN - Software allegedly doubles trouble instead of memory". CNN. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
- Kanellos, Michael (July 22, 1998). "SoftRAM 95 maker in Chapter 11". CNET News. Archived from the original on November 20, 2015. Retrieved May 9, 2016.
- Spector, Lincoln (August 1998). "Syncronys's BigDisk Spells Big Risk". PC World. Archived from the original on August 21, 2008. Retrieved May 9, 2016.