We recently launched our suggestion box (Read about it here) where we ask you to help us improve our site, and to come up with suggestions as what articles to write. In response to that Bert H. asked us to write: “A clear and concise explanation about RAM. A lot of my co-workers are clueless about what it is, what it does, and why upgrading is simple.”
RAM the story behind…
RAM (or R.A.M) is an acronym for Random Access Memory (pronounced ramm). This is, your computers short time memory, which temporarily stores important data or information while the computer is working. In the early days of Computer Development, all data and information had to be stored on magnetic tapes in reels. In order to retrieve the data, you had to rewind the tape to the beginning and then search through the tape until you found the part needed. With RAM you didn’t have to do that anymore. The CPU (Central Processing Unit, or the number-crunching part of your computer) could access “randomly” parts of the memory, without having to search through the entire thing. RAM is organized and controlled in a way that enables data to be stored and retrieved directly from specific locations. Which of course saved a lot of time and energy. Thus making the computer faster and more efficient.
Size and type
[Updated] As several readers (my father included) has pointed out: The first computers didn’t have more than 16 to 64kb RAM. The first computers that hit the home market ( IBM 286/386 machines) back in 1982 could access up to 16MB of RAM, and it’s predecessor could not access more than 1MB at most. That was back in the 80’ies, when Bill Gates himself, said: “640 Kb should be enough memory for anybody…” which of course today wouldn’t even launch your watch, or cellphone, or scientific calculator.
That’s just an example of how time changes everything. Today, you need at least 2GB of RAM if you want your Windows 7 computer to run even decently. Yes, I know you can get it working on less, but it would be like putting bike pedals on your new Hummer and go for a drive in the outlands.
DRAM, SRAM and NanoSeconds
About every 18 month scientists come up with new and better technology that allow us to make more efficient and faster ways of processing data. This is also true when it comes to RAM. Computers dating pre 2002, used single data rate (SDR) RAM and most computers since then use double data rate or triple data rate (DDR, DDR2, DDR3). In order to make this a bit easier to grasp, we will talk about two commonly used technologies DRAM and SRAM.
The two types differ in the technology they use to hold data, (where DRAM being the more common type). In terms of speed, SRAM is faster. DRAM need to be refreshed thousands of times per second while SRAM does not need to be refreshed, which is what makes it faster than DRAM. DRAM supports access times of about 60 nanoseconds, SRAM can give access times as low as 10 nanoseconds (A nanosecond (ns) is one billionth of a second).
Despite SRAM being faster, it’s not as commonly used as DRAM because it’s so much more expensive. Both types of RAM are volatile, meaning they lose their contents when the power is turned off.
Architecture Limits (or the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit)
As with everything, there’s limits to how much RAM you can install or access on your Computer. A 32-bit system doesn’t support more than 4GB RAM at any given time. The 64-bit system can theoretically access (up to) 192GB on Windows 7 Ultimate. Microsoft have set limitations to how much RAM you can access according to which Windows version you have, with Home Basic as low as 8GB. Though for most users, 4GB will be more than sufficient.
The limitations isn’t just related to the Windows system. Also your hardware will set some limitations. My motherboard doesn’t support more than 16GB of RAM even though my Windows 7 Ultimate supports more.
Read Only Memory (ROM)
As opposite to RAM, ROM will “remember” its data even when the power is off. Which of course are the kind of technology which is behind your Hard Drive, and flash drives. ROM is also used on all computers to store information about your Hard-Drives, CD-ROMS, etc. Commonly known as BIOS settings.
Why not just use ROM then ?
Seeing as the ROM can save its data for later retrieval, why bother using RAM ? Well, remember back to the beginning of this article. Scientists wanted a quick and efficient way of retrieving data that was being processed. RAM allows you to do just that. RAM was designed to let your computer have instant access to important processing data, and as such ROM will prove to slow. Most operating systems today use some kind of ROM, when temporarily storing data on your Hard Drive for processing. If you have too little RAM at your computers disposal, Windows will make use of your Hard Drive. That is where all the noise comes from. You know – that grinding noise your computer makes – when crunching data. That is the sound of your Hard-Drive (ROM) working overtime.
If you are running a computer which seem to be stuck in sirup or have a very old mouse running on the impeller. It might be time to upgrade your RAM. Up to a point you are able to easily upgrade your computers amount of RAM. Even on your trusty old Laptop. However there are a few restrictions to be aware of.
- The different types of RAM are not interchangeable, which means you cannot use both DRAM and SRAM on the same computer.
- Your Motherboard supports only one kind of RAM, which means that you probably cannot just swap old technology with the new.
If unsure, refer to the computers manual, or open your computer, unlatch the existing RAM to check what type (make and model) you need.
From there, the rest is like a walk in the park. On the RAM Chip you will notice a small notch, which prevent you from inserting it the wrong way. On the motherboard, there are two latches on each side of the RAM slots. Place the Ram Chip in between and press down until they lock it in position.
When done, reboot your computer and enjoy your new powers.
I will write a more detailed step-by-step article on how to actually perform the upgrade, both on your Laptop and your Desktop Computer.