We investigate the performance of sparsely-connected networks of integrate-and-fire neurons for ultra-short term information processing. We exploit the fact that the population activity of networks with balanced excitation and inhibition can switch from an oscillatory firing regime to a state of asynchronous irregular firing or quiescence depending on the rate of external background spikes. We find that in terms of information buffering the network performs best for a moderate, non-zero, amount of noise. Analogous to the phenomenon of stochastic resonance the performance decreases for higher and lower noise levels. The optimal amount of noise corresponds to the transition zone between a quiescent state and a regime of stochastic dynamics. This provides a potential explanation of the role of non-oscillatory population activity in a simplified model of cortical micro-circuits.