How Does RAM Work?

By Paul Bright

RAM and Your Computer

Virtually all computers rely on memory to perform all their functions. There are several types of memory, but RAM is one major one that, if not completely understood, could hamper your day-to-day operations in your computer. Without RAM, you won't get very far from the moment you turn on your PC! So if RAM is this powerful, what is it and how does it work?

What Is RAM?

RAM stands for Random Access Memory. Most RAM that is installed on computers can only function when the computer is powered. RAM is needed for your computer whenever you decide to perform an operation. Let's say that you want to do some word processing on your computer. All the letters that you type are going into a temporary file that is stored in the RAM. If your computer shut down in the middle of your document creation and you powered it back up, most likely your information would be lost. Why? Because it was stored in RAM. Had you saved the document it would have been stored onto another type of memory called ROM, or Read-Only Memory.

RAM and Computer Slowdown

The more RAM your computer has, the more programs or functions you can run at once. If you've ever tried to start up two or three programs and the last one seems to be operating at a snail's pace, your RAM may be reaching its limits of use. You should really check a program's minimum requirements for RAM before purchasing. Make sure you have more than enough to cover it or else you'll find yourself taking it back to the store or purchasing more RAM. Computer slowdowns can also happen, because RAM is also used even if you aren't actively running a program. Some background programs like operating system updates will use RAM. Most operating systems can be checked to see what is running in the background if you want to shut down those behind-the-scenes programs. For Microsoft Vista, you can access the list of background programs by pressing Control, Alt, and Delete on your computer at the same time and selecting the "task manager" function. From there you would select either the Applications or the Processes tab to view which functions are currently operating.

Types of RAM

RAM isn't necessarily limited to what is in your computer when you buy it. Removable RAM like thumb drives and flash drives are more and more popular because of their versatility. Thumb drives often can contain more actual megabytes of memory than standard home computers, all within a one-inch stick! Regardless of your needs, make sure you have enough RAM and the right type, so you don't find yourself out of space to do your work.