What is RAM?
A computer RAM memory card.
CREDIT: Iaroslav Neliubov | shutterstock
With computers playing an increasingly critical role in our day-to-day lives, it is important to know their components and how each works. One of the most essential parts of a computer is its RAM, but how many people actually know what the acronym stands for and the functions RAM performs?
What is Computer RAM?
Often confused with the hard drive, RAM stands for Random Access Memory and is the most common type of memory used in computers. A computer's RAM is the memory used to store data and programs on a temporary basis. The RAM is compared to short-term memory, as it stores applications and information that is actively used while the system is on. In comparison, the hard drive, the long-term memory, stores all programs and information permanently, whether the computer is on or not. The amount of RAM directly affects a computer’s performance. The more RAM a computer has, the more programs and documents it can have open without slowing the system down. Current PC computers have anywhere from 256 MB of RAM, or 256 million bytes of memory a program can use, to as much as 4 GB of RAM. Mac computers generally have between 128 and 512 MB of RAM.
Types of RAM
Computers today typically use one of two main types of RAM. The two, Static RAM and Dynamic RAM, differ in the technology each uses to store the information. Developed in the 1990s, Static RAM is the faster of the two, since it never needs to be refreshed and its cycle time is much shorter because it doesn't pause between accesses. While cheaper, Dynamic RAM is slower since it has to be refreshed thousands of times every second. Because of the cost difference, Dynamic RAM is the more commonly used of the two. Both types of RAM, however, are the same in that they are considered volatile because all data in them is lost once the computer is turned off.