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What is Random Access Memory?

One of the major computer hardware components in a machine is the random access memory (RAM). RAM has evolved throughout the years to keep up with the changes in technology and the increased need for faster computer processing. A computer's performance is based on several factors, and one of those factors is the memory. Because reading information from the hard drive would hurt performance of a computer, random access memory is used to quickly store and retrieve information from user input and machine devices. RAM isn't just a part of personal computers. It's also installed in common devices such as PDAs, game consoles, and cell phones. Knowing how RAM works helps you understand your computer and personal handheld devices.

How Does Computer Memory Work?

As soon as you turn on a computer, information is immediately stored in the computer's memory. The first ones and zeros that process on the machine are the instructions saved in read-only memory (ROM). The ROM loads information into random access memory where it provides the computer with the coded instructions that verify integrity of major hardware components. These components include the hard drive, central processing unit (CPU), and the random access memory. If these hardware components fail the ROM verification, you receive an error when booting the computer. Once RAM is verified, the BIOS information is loaded, and the operating system is subsequently loaded as well. All of the programs started during computer startup are loaded into RAM as you wait for the boot process to finish.

Once the computer has loaded necessary system files into RAM, the remaining storage space is available for applications. Every time you load an application, the information necessary to run the software is loaded and saved into memory. Once this memory is filled, the computer is forced to save files onto the hard drive. This type of backup memory is called virtual memory. Virtual memory is much slower than RAM, so having plenty of available memory installed in the machine is better for computer performance. This is why installing memory into your computer makes it faster.

Another important detail about RAM is it saves information in a contiguous manner. Think of memory as a building block of ones and zeros. The information placed first is at the bottom of the block and subsequent information is stacked on top. This means that the first piece of information saved into memory is the last piece removed from memory. This type of memory storage is called "Last In First Out" or "LIFO". The way information is stored and retrieved in memory is important when programming software applications. If the programmer writes software that attempts to pull a piece of information from the center of the memory building block, you receive one of the common errors seen in Windows called a "stack error".

Purchasing Memory

Once a computer has aged and new programs are loaded on the system, more memory needs to be purchased to speed up performance. The type of memory required for your computer is listed in the handbook for the motherboard specifications. If you can't find the motherboard handbook, most manufacturers list the RAM specifications on the main company website. You also need to verify that you have enough slots available for more memory. However, you can remove the current RAM sticks and replace them with larger memory modules if more slots are not available. Once you find out the type of memory and how much you can purchase, a local computer store or online website usually has the memory available in stock.

If you find your computer performance has slowed, improve speed by purchasing more memory. Knowing how this hardware works also helps computer software developers improve performance in programming techniques. Memory technology has improved, and with the demand for more performance, RAM has decreased in price to make it an affordable upgrade for any computer.


Microsoft Windows is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and other countries. Speed improvements vary based on your system configuration. ErrorTeck is not endorsed or affiliated with either Microsoft or the third party applications it supports.