What is Computer Memory or RAM?

What is Computer Memory or RAM?

Most of us have heard the term RAM or Memory, and while it’s easy to think memory is the space on your hard drive if you’re uninitiated into the world of computer terminology, it actually means something entirely different. Instead, when someone refers to memory with a computer, they most likely mean Random Access Memory or RAM. While it doesn’t really have anything to do with the space on your hard drive, which is usually known as storage, it does have a unique and crucial function for your computer.


What is RAM?

RAM or Random Access Memory is a type of computer memory that can be accessed randomly, without touching the previous stored bytes, and most importantly, accessed quickly. In the least techy way explanation possible, it is the memory your computer uses to do things. For example, when you open and view tabs and windows, this is stored on your computer memory or RAM. When you save a photo to your computer, it saves onto your computer storage, or hard drive.

Data on your RAM is not stored, it is either loaded onto your hard drive, or deleted, when you close your computer or the program you were running. Basically, RAM is like short term memory.

Why Does RAM Matter?

Random access memory doesn’t really sound important, but it controls how many things you can do at once, and how complex the programs you use can be. Essentially, the more RAM you have, the more complex and memory rich programs you can use. But don’t get too excited just yet. Installing 64GB of RAM into your computer isn’t really that practical for most of us. In fact, the average computer user doesn’t really use more than about 4-8GB of RAM at once, and at most, about 16. The only reason you’d even use 16 is if you’re using really graphics heavy games, running a lot of programs, or doing something memory intensive, like video editing with complex programs.

If you’re just surfing the web, you might not even need more than 1 or 2 GB of RAM. Some older computers still use the web just fine with 512mb of RAM, you just can’t open 400 tabs and expect the computer not to freeze. Most computers load essential data, like your Explorer or Spotlight, onto your RAM, so that you can access it quickly and use it to search for other things on your computer. Having more RAM reduces the amount of time that a computer has to access your hard drive, which speeds it up when you do more things.

What are the Different Types of RAM?

You’ve probably seen a lot of different types of RAM, and they each have unique properties and pros and cons. For example, DDR3 RAM, flash ram, and so on.

The two main types of RAM are:
DRAM – Dynamic Random Access Memory (most commonly used RAM)

SRAM – Static Random Access Memory (significantly faster than DRAM, but expensive)

Additional specifications, like DDR3 Ram, are just subsets of these types of RAM. For example, DDR3L RAM chips consume less power, have faster bus speeds (they send data back and forth between the hard drive more quickly) and are therefore faster, but more expensive.

What do Discrete and Integrated RAM mean?

Discrete RAM is a RAM chip that you can insert into your computer on its own. This allows you to upgrade if you want, and is extremely common in desktop computers and many laptops. This allows you to upgrade your RAM to the max supported by the computer. Integrated RAM is built into the computer’s motherboard or logic board if you have an Apple computer, and cannot be upgraded. Each has their own advantages, but discrete or dedicated options have more power, more customization options, and are usually significantly better for gaming or rendering videos. Integrated RAM is usually more affordable, and modern integrated RAM typically works well with even HD video and games, but you can never upgrade it.

So How Much Can I Upgrade My Computer Memory?

If you’re getting excited that you can just upgrade your computer memory to 12000 GB, stop. Your computer’s Random Access Memory doesn’t mean much once it surpasses the capabilities of the processor and logic or memory board, which means you will have to choose the RAM based on the capabilities of the computer. You can search your computer to find out how much RAM you can reasonably install. Most computers come with either half or one quarter or one eight of their maximum RAM, so if you have a 4GB RAM card, you may be able to upgrade to 8, 16, or 32 depending on the manufacturer. The only way to find out is to check based on the computer. A quick Google search is usually enough to find out.

Finally, if you’re going to upgrade, you have to choose a RAM card that is compatible with your computer. Search based on your computer’s name, or go to your manufacturer’s website for a list of compatible RAM cards.

About The Author
Gardenia Boyle, aka "Deanie," is a freelance writer from Seattle. When she's not busy working on a variety of writing projects, she enjoys volunteering at the Humane Society or hiking. If it's raining though, which it does a lot of in WA, you'll probably find her with a controller in her hand playing one of her favorite games, WoW or Final Fantasy.