What Is RAM and How Does It Work?

Nikolina Cveticanin Image
Updated:

November 02,2022

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Every computer, laptop, and smartphone has components enabling it to run efficiently. RAM (random access memory) is one such component, and this article will look into what it is, what it does, and whether electronic devices can work without it.

RAM Definition and Purpose

So, what is RAM and what does it do? RAM is essential for every computer, including game consoles, smartphones, and tablets. It enables devices to run smoothly when performing various tasks simultaneously. Think of keeping several tabs open in the browser while playing Warzone—quick response times when cycling through the tabs is RAM's doing.

Is RAM hardware or software, though? It is a piece of hardware that acts as an intermediary between the central processing unit (CPU, also known as the processor) and the hard drive. Even the simplest tasks would take longer to complete without RAM, as this high-speed component allows applications to store and quickly access data on a short-term basis.

What Does RAM Do To Make Electronic Devices Work Faster?

Unlike the hard drive, solid-state drive (SSD), or ROM, which store data permanently, RAM enables quick access to active data and resets every time you reboot the system.

The general rule of thumb is that the more RAM you have, the better, though you don’t need to go overboard (we will circle back to this). Let’s say, for now, that RAM is used for seamlessly switching between various programs, processes, and files that are open simultaneously.

RAM Explained in Simple Terms

We can compare RAM to a physical desk in a study.

  1. While the computer is turned off, the desk is empty.
  2. When an Excel spreadsheet is open, it’s like putting a piece of paper on the left side of the work surface.
  3. Next, if a Word document is opened without closing Excel, it is like adding another piece of paper to the right side of the hypothetical desk.
  4. Then, say you go to My Documents and open a folder with various contracts—the desk now has a physical folder in the center of the work surface. It can go on and on—the more programs and tabs are open on the computer, the more crowded the desk becomes.

All these processes can run swiftly because RAM provides temporary data storage.

Once work on a file, such as the Excel spreadsheet we opened earlier in the story, is done, saved, and closed, the relevant data moves from RAM to slower storage, like a hard drive or SAN (storage area network). On our imaginary desk, this would be like removing the piece of paper from the right corner and filing it in the drawer.

Why RAM Is Important

RAM stores everything currently running on your electronic device. When you are simultaneously using a reasonable number of programs, RAM performs smoothly, but too many open programs, browsers, or memory-consuming games will make it slower as the memory fills up.

While you have a program open, RAM stores its data for the processor to access quickly rather than dig through the hard drive or other slower storage.

In theory, a computer could work without RAM (unless your motherboard requires it to start the operating system). Without RAM, however, the computer’s response times would be much slower, resulting in poor efficiency.

So, is RAM, a short-term memory, essential for the computer’s performance? Yes, it is.

How Much RAM Do You Need?

The answer to this question comes down to how you use your device. If you’re in video production, requiring many apps and browser windows to be open simultaneously, or you run servers, invest in 32 GB RAM.

If you happen to be a hard-core gamer, 16 GB RAM should suffice for any game available today, or even 8 GB if the GPU (graphics processing unit) and CPU are identical. Simple tasks like browsing the web and working with Word and Excel require even less memory.

Available RAM Types

More than one RAM generation is in use today. DDR4 RAM is the standard, but if you have an older system, it could be running on DDR3 or DDR2.

The main difference between these RAM generations is speed, with the next generation being faster than the previous. Also, they are physically different, meaning that the memory modules (or sticks) will either not fit into the motherboard slots or probably won’t work, or at least not as well as the original.

So, pay attention to the generation of the double data rate, which is what DDR stands for, if you need to replace your memory.

Conclusion

RAM is temporary high-speed storage that enables programs open on a computer to run fast. It stores data for the processor to access instantly, and once you close the programs, the data moves from RAM to slower storage. This makes it a different kind of memory from cloud storage or a hard disk, which stores data until it is deleted.

FAQ
How does RAM work?

RAM is a computer memory temporarily storing active software or data, allowing a device to run efficiently. Once any program opens, or a game starts, RAM allows the processor to quickly access and process the data, which moves from this short-term memory when the user closes the program or ends the game. The more RAM a device has, the more tasks it can handle without latency.

What is RAM in a computer?

RAM is a piece of hardware storing active programs or data that an electronic device needs to access quickly in order to run without delays. Unlike a hard disk or other long-term storage, it keeps the data only as long as the software runs.

What is RAM used for?

RAM improves computer performance by storing data for the processor to access quickly. Without RAM, the processing unit would have to access all files directly from the hard drive, which would make the entire process much slower.

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