This has got to be the easiest RAM Computer explanation you’ll find. Selecting a new computer or laptop is a difficult choice since it usually entails a significant investment that we often have to live with for at least few years.
Most of us might go to the local Best Buy or Wal-Mart and choose something that looks good and is selling at a reasonable price. And if we happen to be the kind of person that does a little research before buying, then we might even look at the specs of the computer, such as the type of operating system and hard drive, the storage space, and, of course, the brand.
If we keep reading the specifications we might even come across something called memory. Then when we start comparing laptops and desktops, it soon becomes apparent that they all have either 4GB or 8GB of memory, with the odd exception having 12GB or perhaps even 16GB. Okay, but what exactly is memory?
What Is Memory? RAM Computer Explanation
Memory can be thought of as a place of storage, much like a hard drive stores information. Also, like information on a hard drive, the computer will read information from its memory in order to perform certain functions. Just know that information in memory is fleeting, unlike information on the hard drive that stays around.
Another difference between these two forms of information storage is access ability. Reading from a hard drive is like having to walk from your room to your office to pick up a needed folder. However, reading from memory is like having the folder you need at arm’s length. It’s faster and more efficient. It is does its job and is built for speed, even though it is temporary. That is what you need to know.
Of course there are many more details involving the operating functions of memory, but those explanations would take too much time and space for this web page . Consider this article an introduction to the world of computer memory. And that takes us to the special name associated with memory, RAM or Random Access Memory.
How long has RAM been around?
RAM has been around for a while now, with the first modern interpretation called SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory) that was designed in late 1996. SDRAM was slow by today’s standards and held far less available storage.
What is SDRAM?
SDRAM was tied to the CPU (Central Processing Unit) clock rate and could only perform a single operation on each clock cycle. The next innovation came in 1998 and was called DDR SDRAM (Double Data Rate SDRAM), which essentially doubled the speed of the RAM since it could perform two operations per clock cycle of the CPU.
This technology is still used today though you might be more familiar with the acronyms DDR2, DDR3, or DDR4. DDR5 is also just around the corner and might be released in late 2019 or early 2020.
We won’t delve too deep into each of those technologies, but it should suffice to say that with each new generation, the previous one was made nearly obsolete.
Another thing of note between the generations is that with each new generation came higher clock rates, increased memory capacity, and improved efficiency, which means the computer can operate at lower voltages and therefore consume less power.
Most of what you encounter today will likely be of the DDR3 variety or DDR4 if you are buying a top-end model computer or laptop.
A Deeper Understanding of RAM
Next let’s look at RAM ( Random Access Memory) in more functional way, remembering that RAM is a type of storage in which a processor (CPU) can store data that it needs continuously. For example, if we were to open up Microsoft Word, then the CPU would read the program from the hard drive where it is located initially and duplicate the files that it needs and transfer those onto the RAM.
This way, rather than having to read from the hard drive every time we click on a Word menu item, like changing a font, the CPU does it immediately without having to check with the slow hard drive. RAM delivers information much faster.
Now you might be thinking: If RAM is so much quicker than hard drives, why do we still use hard drives?
The engineering behind this can get confusing. Again, essentially, it comes down to two reasons: (1) RAM storage is much more expensive per gigabyte, and (2) storage gets cleared when the computer is turned off. RAM needs a constant power source to retain its contents. These two reasons are why we still use hard drives in conjunction with RAM. It is important to remember these two details of the RAM Computer explanation.
Going back to our shopping example, exactly how much RAM do we need then? Drum roll please, it depends. For the majority of people, 4GB will be enough, although 8GB is becoming the new standard.
A short activity you can try.
To make this RAM computer explanation easier to visualize, let’s do a short activity: press the Ctrl, Alt, and Delete keys together and then click on Task Manager. Once your task manager is open, click on the Performance tab and check out the Memory section.
From here, you will see how much RAM your system has, as well as how much it is currently using. Now, if you go back to the Processes tab, you can see all the programs that are currently stored and how much storage they are presently using.
An Important Reminder
For every piece of software or game that you have opened, the CPU will use more and more RAM, and if you ever hit your limit one of two things will happen: your computer will slow down to a crawl because it has to read from the hard drive rather than RAM, or your computer will simply crash and reboot.
Both cases are irritating and can be solved by increasing your RAM capacity, something that the experts at Steve’s PC Repair can do for your desktops and laptops.
While four or eight gigabytes of RAM storage will be enough for most people, there are some situations in which more would be advisable. For example, when using data intense programs such as video editing software, engineering design tools like CAD, or even PC gaming, you might think about using 16GB of RAM or even more.
Editing and design software work especially well with RAM, and more is better. Gaming, on the other hand, can be a mixed bag: games that are very GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) intensive might not benefit at all with more RAM, while games that are very CPU (Central Processing Unit) intensive would.
The only other scenario where you would want as much RAM as possible would be if you were operating a server. (Note: a server is a computer that provides data to other computers). For home servers, it is not uncommon for enthusiasts to have systems with 64GB of RAM or higher. Whereas for professional servers, it is not unusual to need hundreds of gigabytes worth of RAM storage.
So let’s say you do want to increase your RAM storage to make your productivity better, or to begin streaming your gaming sessions online. It’s as simple as buying a few RAM sticks and sticking them into your motherboard, right?
Pause: The rest of this article will be a little more technical, but it is worth reading if you are considering upgrading or increasing your RAM storage.
Things to consider when upgrading.
The first thing you should consider when upgrading your RAM storage is whether your motherboard is compatible with the RAM sticks or modules. While a CPU can work with any memory you throw at it, a motherboard is generally only compatible with a single generation, like DDR3 (Double Data Rate 3).
Along with the benefits of improved speeds and storage, each generation is different physically from the others. In other words, DDR4 is physically separate from DDR3 and the others, so that you couldn’t add DDR3 to a motherboard meant for DDR4. Well, physically, you could, but you would also break your RAM and your motherboard.
Speed or number of cycles
The next most important consideration is the speed or the number of cycles it runs in a single second. It is usually measured in Megahertz or MHz (e.g., 2800MHz = 2.8 billion cycles per second). When upgrading, you have to make sure that the motherboard you are installing it into is compatible with such speeds.
Otherwise, the RAM will run at the fastest speed that the motherboard allows, which could result in a loss of performance per dollar spent. For example, you wouldn’t want to install 3800MHz RAM into a motherboard capable of only 2800MHz when you could have bought the cheaper 2800MHz RAM, to begin with since both modules would run at the same speed.
One last important consideration is what is called the CAS latency or Column Access Strobe latency, which is the number of cycles that it takes for the RAM to receive a read command and when it finally makes the data available.
Mainly, a RAM with a lower speed may perform the same as a higher clocked RAM module if the CAS latency is lower on the former. For example, a module with speeds of 3000MHz and CAS latency of 14 cycles performs better than a RAM module with 3800MHz but a CAS latency of 19 cycles.
However, even that is not necessarily always true since some processors may prefer the higher clock rates over low latencies. AMD’s newest family of processors dubbed Ryzen is one such case in which RAM speeds trumps all else with those processors gaining meaningful performance increases with increasing speed (up to the point of course).
That’s got to be an important part of this RAM Computer explanation.
Matching clock speed and latency.
Finally, when it comes to increasing RAM storage, you always want to match the modules in both clock speed and latency. Timings as close as possible (having identical modules is still preferred); with the popularity increase of computer gaming, companies have even started selling RAM in “kits.” Two or four matching RAM modules are sold in a single package so that you can have the best performance without having to match modules yourself.
Talking about matching this brings us into a tiny side note about single, dual, triple, and quad-channel memory. You might have heard about dual-channel memory or perhaps quad-channel memory before on online forums or tech websites, but what does it mean, and what benefits do they provide?
Multichannel memory architecture.
In theory, multichannel memory architecture will provide multiples of the memory bandwidth available compared to single-channel memory (for example, double channel architecture offers twice the bandwidth). Any computer that can be bought today will support dual-channel memory, while only workstations or higher-end computers will provide triple or quad-channel memory.
One caveat with multichannel memory is that you must have a compatible CPU, motherboard, and the right number of memory modules (for example, triple channel memory requires three modules minimum) placed in the correct slots.
Without getting into too much detail, know that dual-channel memory will mostly always perform better than single-channel memory. Therefore if your system supports it, you should opt for having two smaller RAM modules.
Rather than a single larger RAM module (for example, installing two 4GB sticks rather than a single 8GB stick as you will get better performance with the two sticks operating in a dual-channel setup).
Most of this information only applies to people who are building a system from scratch since prebuilt desktops or laptops almost always come prebuilt with the most efficient setups.
How RAM affects your system.
One last topic that I would like to mention is that it is a vital part of any computer system, and they can cause your computer to function incorrectly if even a single RAM module in your system is dying or nonfunctional.
Bad RAM modules, for example, will prevent a computer from posting at all (power-on self-test). In other scenarios, you could have a laptop crashing seemingly at random, or perhaps your computer will not output any video.
General sluggishness of a computer can also be sometimes attributed to failing or bad RAM. Here at Steve’s PC Repair, we have specialized software that can stress test RAM modules to determine their overall health. We also have a large variety of RAM modules with which to replace, increase, or upgrade from your current setup.
We’ve come a long way from shopping for a new computer or laptop, but at least now you are more familiar with the term memory and how much you might need or want.
Good news – it’s replaceable.
Thankfully, RAM is something that can be replaced in most computers (except, of course, newer Apple laptops), and if you get a system with less memory than you thought you might need, it can always be upgraded later.
There are still a couple more topics that we could cover, such as brands, manufacturers, overclocking, and tightening timings, but we can go down that rabbit hole another day.
I hope this RAM Computer explanation gives you a good understanding of the matter.
Do you have any topics or questions that you would like answered and talked about? Let us know. Until next time, have a good day!