Computer Memory and How It Works
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All computers have memory. Without it, we would just have a device that does
fixed operations and it would be more like a calculator. So what is computer
memory and how does it work?
Technically, computer memory is any form of electronic storage. There are
many types of memory within a computer, all varying in size due to cost. Because
the hard drive is the most cost effective, it is the largest portion of our
system, enabling us to have home PC's. The most expensive memory system within
our computer is the cache.
To put memory into very simple terms, let's imagine that we are turning on
our home PC. When your computer is turned on, the first thing your system does
is load data from its ROM or read-only memory. ROM is a type of memory that is
preloaded with data and software that never changes. ROM also stores your
computer's initial start-up instructions.
Once your computer loads data from ROM, it then loads the operating system
from the hard drive into the system's RAM or Random Access Memory. RAM can be
read and written to at any time. Your computer's CPU (central processing unit)
commands the RAM. The hard drive, operating system, and CPU all work as a team.
Once you open an application, it is loaded into RAM. To conserve RAM usage,
many applications load only the essential parts of the program initially and
then load other pieces as needed. When you save a file and close the
application, the file is written to the specified storage device and then it and
the application are purged from the RAM.
RAM serves as temporary storage, which holds information every time something
is loaded or opened. Keeping it temporary allows the CPU to access it more
easily. The CPU requests the data from RAM, processes it, and then writes new
data back to RAM in a continuous cycle, often millions of times every second.
Another type of storage that is not accessible by the CPU is called secondary
storage. The computer uses input/output channels to access secondary storage and
stores information using an intermediate area in primary storage. Hard disks are
usually used as secondary storage because of their affordability. The down side
is that it takes a computer a few thousandths of a second or millisecond to
access a byte of information stored on a hard drive. This sounds fast until you
see that it takes RAM a thousand-millionth of a second or a nanosecond to
transfer the same amount of information. This makes hard disks a million times
slower than RAM.
Other secondary storage devices, such as CDs, DVDs, and flash memory, have an
even longer access time than hard disks.
Because of the cost and speed, most computers will store information in the
primary memory and then move the least used information to secondary storage
devices, retrieving it later when it is needed. As more of these retrievals from
slower secondary storage are needed, your system becomes slower.
Higher end computers, those used by specialty companies, often have systems
with more RAM or sophisticated systems to help them maintain large amounts of
data without overburdening their systems.
For most individuals or even companies, keeping up with the needed amount of
memory can be daunting. Each year, the software we use and become dependent upon
along with the applications we enjoy require more and more storage space.
Transferring information from old computers to new can be expensive and for some
large companies almost cost prohibitive. Using third party data storage
companies in archiving your information helps your systems not get bogged down
while safely retaining your information. And for many companies, storing
critical accounting information using third party companies is the law.
What is the future for computer memory and storage? All we know is that it
will only get bigger and bigger and that our computers as well as ourselves
depend on it.
About the Author
Stephen J. Richards has 25 years experience in Data Management and
Information Technology. This information is provided as a public service by Neon
Enterprise Software, a leading provider of
For more information, please visit
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2008-05-16 23:58:02 in Computer Articles