In this article:
- What is RAM on a computer?
- What does RAM stand for?
- What does RAM do?
- What is RAM used for?
- Are there different types of RAM?
- DRAM vs SRAM
What is RAM on a computer?
Random Access Memory (RAM) serves as a computer’s short-term memory, storing the data currently being utilised by the processor. Compared to data stored on a hard disk, SSD, or other long-term storage devices, RAM memory can be accessed much more quickly. This is precisely why the capacity of RAM plays a crucial role in determining system performance.
What does RAM stand for?
RAM, short for random access memory, is an essential component of computing that plays a vital role in the performance of various devices. Acting as a temporary memory bank, RAM allows your computer to swiftly store and retrieve data it requires. By keeping data readily accessible, RAM enables your processor to locate it quickly, eliminating the need to access long-term storage for immediate processing tasks.
Whether you use a desktop computer operating on Windows, MacOS, or Linux, a tablet or smartphone running Android or iOS, or even an IoT computing device like a smart TV, all these devices rely on RAM. While computers typically possess methods for storing information for long-term access, the memory necessary for running the current task is stored and accessed through the computer’s RAM.
What does RAM do?
RAM serves as a temporary storage medium that resets when your computer is powered off. Offering rapid data access, RAM proves ideal for efficiently handling active processes, applications and programs, including the data required for seamless web browsing through your preferred web browser.
To grasp the concept of RAM, envision a physical desk as an analogy. The desk’s top surface represents your working space, where you keep frequently accessed items within arm’s reach to avoid wasting time searching through drawers. Conversely, less frequently used items or those intended for future use are stored in desk drawers.
Similarly, your computer’s RAM functions as the top surface of your virtual desk, providing quick access to everything you need. On the other hand, data that is less frequently used or intended for future use resides on a hard disk, either locally in your device or in the cloud.
What is RAM used for?
RAM is a crucial component for immediate data storage and retrieval, offering exceptional processing speed that surpasses that of a hard disk. This results in performance enhancements ranging from twenty to a hundred times faster, depending on the specific hardware and task at hand.
During specific tasks, computer operating systems transfer data from the hard disk to RAM, optimising processing efficiency. Once the active work with the data is completed, it is converted back into long-term storage.
For example, when launching Microsoft Word, the application is loaded into RAM, enabling near-instantaneous performance. Similarly, accessing a previously saved document involves the operating system retrieving the file from long-term storage and copying the information into RAM, ensuring swift data access.
Saving a document or any other file involves copying the data to long-term storage, such as the hard disk. Conversely, closing an application prompts the computer operating system to remove it from RAM, freeing up space in the computer’s short-term memory for future projects. It’s important to note that as RAM serves as temporary storage, failure to save a document to the hard drive can lead to data loss in the event of a power failure.
Moreover, RAM facilitates quick loading of previously accessed information, enhancing overall efficiency. When launching applications like PowerPoint or Spotify after a computer start-up, the initial loading process may take some time. However, closing and relaunching the same program results in near-instant opening, thanks to the significantly faster access provided by RAM compared to the hard disk. Optimizing your PC’s performance further amplifies this rapid operation.
In summary, RAM is an essential component for tasks that require swift access to computing resources. Windows incorporates a feature called SuperFetch, which leverages user behaviour patterns to automatically preload frequently used applications and files into RAM, ensuring even faster and seamless access to these resources.
Are there different types of RAM?
Multiple types of RAM are available, with ongoing advancements in computer hardware aiming to improve energy efficiency, speed and capacity. Over time, RAM has evolved from manually inserting individual chips to its current state.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the primary RAM types included SRAM (Static RAM), DRAM (Dynamic RAM) and SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic RAM). However, the most prevalent and widely used type today is DDR-SDRAM (Double Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic Random-Access Memory). It has undergone iterations such as DDR2, DDR3, DDR4 and the recently introduced DDR5.
DDR technology enables simultaneous multiple file transfers, with the latest DDR5-RAM achieving impressive data rates of around 6.4 gigabytes per second. However, due to current supply-chain shortages, obtaining DDR5 RAM is challenging and expensive.
DDR4 memory remains the most commonly used RAM, offering various types and speeds. These memory sticks typically operate at speeds of 2,400MHz or higher. For optimal performance, higher-clocked RAM ranging from 3,200MHz up to 5,000MHz is available, which is particularly beneficial for gamers and GPU over clockers. The RAM’s MHz rating directly correlates to its speed.
Another important type of RAM is VRAM (Video Random Access Memory), primarily utilised in graphics cards for processing graphical data during activities like gaming and photo editing. VRAM, often in the form of GDDR (Graphics Double Data Rate), provides even faster performance than standard memory. The latest generation, GDDR6, achieves an impressive data rate of 16 Gbps.
In addition, certain high-end graphics cards employ specialised VRAM called High Bandwidth Memory (HBM). However, this type of RAM is scarce and carries a significant price tag.
DRAM vs SRAM
SRAM (Static RAM) and DRAM (Dynamic RAM) are two commonly used types of RAM that employ different technologies for data storage. SRAM utilizes transistors to retain memory as long as a continuous power supply is provided, while DRAM relies on capacitors that need periodic “refreshing” through bursts of energy every few milliseconds.
The key difference between SRAM and DRAM lies in their underlying technologies. SRAM is smaller, faster, and more energy-efficient, albeit at a higher cost. Consequently, SRAM finds its primary use in cache memory, while DRAM is typically employed as the main memory in computers.
Modern computing extensively employs an advanced variant of DRAM known as SDRAM (Synchronous DRAM). While SDRAM offers notable improvements over legacy DRAM, it still lags behind SRAM in terms of speed and consumes a significant amount of power.