What is RAM memory? everything you need to know

People often draw parallels between computers and the human brain, and sometimes it's an apt comparison. For example, both the brain and the computer have both short-term and long-term memory. RAM is where your computer stores its short-term memory. Here you will understand how it works and, of course, what RAM memory is.

what is ram memory
What is RAM?

What is RAM?

But then what is RAM? RAM stands for Random Access Memory, and if you've ever opened a notebook or desktop computer, you've seen it. In the image above, you see modern RAM devices for desktop PCs. They have a sleek case that doubles as a heat sink. However, unless you are a powerful overclocker, what matters is the appearance (and making them easier to install).

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Laptops, in turn, tend to have more basic RAM memories, as space concerns are fundamental. Also, unlike modern PC cases with transparent sides, people rarely see the inside of a notebook. However, you can get RAM for notebooks (especially for gaming models) with heatsinks.

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What does RAM do?

what is ram memory
What does RAM do?

So now we know what RAM is and that these devices on your PC's motherboard are system RAM and act as short-term memory, but what does this all mean in practice? Well, when you perform actions on your computer, like opening a text document, it requires access to the data contained in that file. When you are not working on this document or click save, the most recent copy of this file is saved to your hard drive for long-term storage.

When you're working on the file, however, the latest data is stored in RAM for faster access. This is true for spreadsheets, text documents, web pages and video streaming.

It's not just about document data. RAM can also store program files and operating systems to keep applications and your computer running. RAM isn't the only source of short-term memory, however. For example, a video card has its own graphics RAM and the processor has smaller data caches.

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However, RAM is the key location for data that is actively being used by the system.

How does RAM work?

what is ram memory
How does RAM work?

RAM memory is made up of tiny capacitors and transistors capable of holding an electrical charge that represents bits of data, similar to processors and other parts of your computer. This electrical charge needs to be constantly updated. Otherwise, the capacitors lose their charge too quickly and data disappears from RAM.

The fact that data can be lost so quickly when the charge runs out is why saving all changed data on the hard drive or SSD is so important. It's also why so many programs have auto-save capabilities or cache unsaved changes in the event of an unexpected shutdown.

Forensic specialists can retrieve data from RAM under special circumstances. However, most of the time, when you complete the file or the computer is turned off, the information in RAM disappears.

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What is DDR?

what is ram memory
What is DDR?

The most common form of RAM used today is DDR4. It is the fourth version of Dual Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory (DDR SDRAM). “Double data rate” means that data can be transferred twice per clock cycle instead of just once. Effectively, it means you double the memory bandwidth and also refers to how quickly data can be moved in and out of RAM.

Before DDR4, computers used (amazingly) DDR3. It's not uncommon for computers to still have DDR3 RAM. DDR4 was released in late 2014 and didn't become the most common type of RAM until a few years later.

RAM sticks are “keyed” to prevent people from mixing and matching different incompatible generations. If you look at the RAM stick shown above, for example, you will see a small hole in the bottom row. In DDR4, this divot is in a different place, so that (along with other differences) it makes it impossible to put a DDR3 stick in a DDR4 slot.

RAM also comes in two types: DIMM and SODIMM. DIMM is used in desktop PCs and servers, while SODIMM is used in smaller devices such as notebooks and compact desktops. Some pre-made computers (especially notebooks) also have RAM modules soldered directly to the motherboard. When this is the case, there are no RAM sticks, which makes upgrading impractical.

Speeds, voltages and capacities

what is ram memory
RAM sticks can also come with RGB lighting.

Although what is RAM memory AND the basics of what RAM does is very simple, there are very different types, even among DDR4. For example, RAM functions at variable speeds like 2.400, 3.000 or 3.200 MHz. It also comes in different sizes like 4, 8 or 16 GB.

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Generally, modern computers need two RAM sticks (called a kit) of the same size to function in what is called “dual channel mode”. Basically this just means that a PC is running on two RAM drives.

Many people claim that you can mix and match different RAM settings, and that's true. However, it's much easier to maintain a PC if its RAM has the same speed and capacity, and it comes from the same manufacturer, in that order of importance.

If you are looking for quality RAM that will meet most of your needs, and not let your games choke, we recommend Memory HyperX 8GB or 16GB Fury, DDR4 and 2666Mhz. Secure yours now and enjoy!

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Getting RAM at the same voltage is also a concern, but many DDR4 desktops are stocked at 1,35 volts, making this less of an issue. Laptops and previous generations of RAM, however, are a different story.

If you can't get the same brand of RAM for a notebook, at least make sure you use the same voltage, speed and capacity. The amount of RAM you can use also depends on what your motherboard can support. An older notebook, for example, might be able to handle up to 8GB DDR3.

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A modern desktop PC, however, might be able to support something like a 4GB DDR128, depending on its processor and motherboard. For most people, however, 8 to 16 GB is enough. There's a lot more RAM than this basic overview. If you are overclocking, voltages and times become important.

We hope you now have a better understanding of what RAM is and what RAM does and why it is such an important component of your PC.

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Journalist, 26 years old. Passionate about what I do and what I write about.