The open source journal has published an interesting hack. It mostly applies to high-end, multiple-disk storage:
Under the right conditions (that is, with certain hardware configurations which I’ll identify later) it is possible to literally double your sequential read performance from disk. If you noticed the terrible performance of the 3Ware 9500S RAID controller and cared enough to investigate. It all has to do with a sneaky little block device parameter known as readahead. Without going into too much gory detail, readahead controls how much in advance the operating system reads when, well, reading, as its name implies. By default, some operating systems (in particular, RHEL5 Server) sets this to 256 (512-byte sectors), or about 128 KB. When dealing with large filesystems spanning many disks, this paltry figure can actually nuke your performance.