If you’ve purchased a computer, tablet or laptop before, you’ve probably heard of the term RAM. But what is this RAM and what does it do?
RAM – or rather Random Access Memory – is often shortened to just the term “memory” – but it shouldn’t be confused with hard drive memory (a.k.a. storage.) Both are measured in bytes (megabytes and gigabytes) but while hard drive storage refers to how much information your hard drive can store, RAM memory is something different entirely.
Basically, RAM memory stores data that the computer processor needs to be able to access quickly in order to process instructions. You see, much like your hard disk drive, the RAM memory stores data, but taking data from the hard disk is comparatively slow. Since computers these days need to be able to execute your commands (and commands from your computers software) almost instantaneously, constantly retrieving data from the hard disk drive takes too long.
So specific data is transferred into the RAM memory. For example, data related to a program you are currently using, or data that the computer (operating system) knows it will need often or imminently. RAM memory is organised in rows and columns (like a spreadsheet) and any particular point of data can be accessed extremely quickly, just by referencing the address (the column ID and the row ID.) Hard drives don’t work like that (they work in sectors and blocks of information) which is why they are slower.
It may be easier to understand if you use the suitcase/airport analogy. You may keep everything you need often or quickly (like passports and boarding passes) in the pockets of the suitcase because you know exactly where they are and can access them quickly. The pockets of the suitcase is the RAM memory, and everything stored inside the suitcase main bag – which are slower to get to – represents information on the hard disk drive.
The more RAM your computer has, the more data it can store and retrieve quickly at any one point, meaning for those using lots of application (or memory intensive applications,) they may get a faster performance from their computer, providing nothing else slows it down.
RAM memory is volatile. This means that the data on the RAM memory is only temporary. Once you switch the computer off, the information is gone. Obviously the hard drive is different. The information stays there until you delete it (or until the drive is destroyed.)
So when your processor is busy processing everything you need it to do, it is constantly retrieving information that it needs from the RAM memory, quickly and [hopefully] efficiently.
Upgrading RAM memory
Physically speaking, RAM memory are integrated circuits on a chip that plugs directly into your computers motherboard. Many desktop pcs and tablets may have two RAM memory chips plugged in, with slots available for more.
One of the easy ways to speed up computer performance is to increase the RAM memory by removing the chips inside and putting in new ones with a higher capacity.
RAM memory is measured in both capacity (how much data the memory can have at any single time) and clock speed (how fast the memory can retrieve data) and the higher either these are, the better the memory should perform. But remember, your computer will not be compatible with all types of RAM memory, so make sure you don’t run into any compatibility problems and check your documentation or check on the Internet for compatible memory before upgrading.