What is RAM? – Random Access Memory Definition

What is RAM? – Random Access Memory Definition

RAM (Random Access Memory) is a type of memory used by the computer to store data that the computer needs to access often.

Compared to ROM (Read Only Memory), which stores data that the computer doesn’t need to access as frequently, RAM is more expensive, but it can be accessed much faster in exchange.

RAM has different speeds. A typical PC has two types of RAM: DDR3 and DDR4.

The speed of RAM is measured in megabytes per second (Mbps) or gigabytes per second (Gbps).

How Does RAM Work?

How Does RAM Work?

Image Credit – Enterprise Storage Forum

RAM is volatile memory—meaning it holds on to information only while the device is powered up.

Once power is cut off, the data in RAM disappears.

Why do they call it RAM?

Because of something called static random access memory (SRAM), one of the first types of RAM was invented.

Static means it doesn’t need to be refreshed like dynamic random access memory (DRAM). To understand why this is, we must first look at what makes SRAM different from DRAM.

SRAM uses transistors connected as flip-flops to store bits. A flip-flop is a circuit with two stable states that can be used to store binary data—in other words, ones and zeros.

Flip-flops are commonly found throughout digital systems such as computers or electronics because they help generate clean signals from noisy input signals and are often used for temporary storage and signal processing.

A typical application of flip-flops is in shift registers, counters, and state machines that use sequential logic circuits.

How Does it Differ From Storage?

RAM, or random access memory, is different from storage because it’s temporary and volatile.

This means that the data stored in RAM is wiped out whenever the computer is shut down or restarted.

RAM is required to run any programs on your computer and hold their information while in use. Without RAM, you wouldn’t be able to open a text document or browse the Internet.

So how does storage differ?

Storage is used to permanently store your files on your hard drive after they’re finished being worked on by RAM.

Storage also holds other types of data that don’t need to be accessed immediately—such as driver updates and application installers—that can sit there until needed later on.

Unlike RAM, storage doesn’t have a limited lifespan and won’t simply disappear if your computer loses power for some reason.

For programs to run smoothly, a combination of fast RAM (to help them start up) and lots of storage space (to hold the program’s files) is ideal for optimal performance!

What are DDR-SDRAM, DDR2, and DDR3?

DDR-SDRAM, DDR2, and DDR3 are various computer RAMs designed to work with motherboards.

These different types of RAM function differently, but they all provide the same basic features: data storage, reading and writing information to memory, and signal transmission between the motherboard and the RAM module.

The most familiar type of RAM is Dynamic Random Access Memory (DDR-SDRAM).

This type of RAM can be found on your desktop PC and your laptop or netbook. DDR-SDRAM is a chip with a small amount of “on”-time that provides temporary power for data transmission from and to the motherboard—essentially, it’s like shorting out on an electric circuit and allowing electricity to flow through again when it’s not being used.

There are several variations on this type of RAM (they’re all just chips inside your computer).

The two main ones are:

  • Single Data Rate Synchronous DRAM – This is higher speed than regular DDR-SDRAM but consumes less power than high-speed DDR2/DDR3 because it only uses one bit at a time for communication between the motherboard and the RAM module. There are eight bits in each byte, making up a single character or 1K total capacity per stick; therefore, 128Mb = 1M x 8 = 8Gigabytes per stick
  • Double Data Rate Synchronous DRAM – This slower variation on standard SDRAM offers twice the speed of standard SDRAM but consumes more power because it’s sending two bits simultaneously. In terms of memory size, there are four bits in each byte, making up a single character or 512 Mb total capacity per stick; therefore, 16Gb = 1M x 4 = 4Gigabytes per stick.

How Much Do I Need For My PC or Laptop?

The amount of RAM your computer needs depends on how you use it.

Most computers these days come with at least 8GB, which is acceptable for everyday use.

In general, 16GB is better. 32GB is overkill, and any more than that isn’t helpful if you don’t run applications that require massive amounts of memory.

However, if you’re a hardcore gamer or work with high-definition video or large images, then more memory can help your system perform better.

Keep in mind that the graphics card in your computer also plays a part in its gaming performance; more RAM won’t compensate for an older graphics card!

Another thing to keep in mind is compatibility—if you’ve got an old computer (before 2010), it might not support newer types of RAM.

If this is the case and you still want to add memory to your system, it may be time for a new PC altogether.

What About Speed and Latency?

The higher the number, the faster your RAM will transfer data and the better performance you’ll get.

The main reason to overclock your RAM is to ensure that all computer components, including an overclocked CPU and GPU, are working at their optimal speeds.

Depending on what equipment you have, you can overclock them all at once or one by one.

Here’s a quick guide for figuring out how fast your RAM is:

If you have DDR3-1600, it’s PC3-12800; for DDR3-1866, it’s PC3-14900; for DDR3-2000, it’s PC3-16000; and for DDR3-2133, it’s PC3-17000.

Is It OK to Mix Different Kinds of RAM in My System?

No one will stop you from mixing different types of RAM in your system, and it should be fine.

The only time you’ll have a problem is if you get the wrong kind of RAM for your motherboard; even then, most systems will ignore the bad RAM and boot normally.

That said, we recommend using identical sticks of RAM.

This simplifies things, makes it easier to troubleshoot problems when something goes wrong and ensures that all of your memory will run at its optimal speed—even though most motherboards automatically clock down faster RAM to match slower sticks anyway.

But if you mix different types of RAM (especially DDR2 and DDR3), they’ll almost certainly run at different speeds in practice.

For example, a motherboard that supports up to 1600MHz (DDR3) might run two 800MHz (DDR2) modules at 800MHz but could only run a single 1600MHz module at 1333MHz.

In this case, mixing the two would result in overall lower performance than what the newer module is capable of on its own.

When upgrading old hardware with newer parts, keep these differences in mind when shopping around for compatible parts!

How Can I Tell If a Motherboard or Laptop Can Be Upgraded with More RAM or a Faster Kind of RAM?

You can check your manufacturer’s website and search for information on the motherboard or laptop model.

If the computer is new and you haven’t changed any hardware components, you should be able to find its specifications online.

You can also check the technical specifications of your laptop by searching for it in a search engine like Google or Bing.

If you’ve already upgraded your RAM and are looking for more upgrades, you’ll need to look at your motherboard’s manual or its technical specifications to see what type of processor it uses.

You’ll also want to make sure that the motherboard has enough memory slots for adding more RAM and whether or not there are empty slots available.

If you’re trying to replace an old laptop with a newer one with better specs, your best bet is probably to buy a new machine altogether.


That’s it for our quick primer on the purpose of RAM and how it functions.

Whether your computer is struggling to open several programs at once or having trouble running high-end software, you now know that addressing the amount of RAM in your system can help alleviate your problem.

Talk with a computer expert to learn more about what RAM upgrades could do for you.

Further Reading