Computer Memory and Its Common Types

In the realm of computer technology, memory serves as the means for a computer to store all the data and instructions that it needs to operate as intended. Memory components are required for a computer to function, and they are utilized by the operating system, hardware, and software. As memory can come in different forms, each with varying functionality, it is important that one familiarizes themselves with common options before attempting to build their own computer or purchase parts for upgrades.

When discussing memory in general, one must understand the distinction between primary memory and secondary memory (storage). While primary memory is where all information and data is temporarily stored for processing and execution, storage refers to the devices of a computer where data is kept long-term. The storage device of a computer will typically come in the form of a hard disk drive (HDD), solid-state drive (SDD), or other similar device. Storage is also non-volatile, meaning that it will retain all data when power is removed from the system.

As mentioned prior, primary memory serves to store data temporarily, allowing for information to be processed for system functionality. When a program is opened on a computer, data is loaded from storage onto the primary memory. By placing the program on primary memory, the program will be capable of communicating with the computer processor much easier and with increased speeds. As primary memory is volatile, no data will be retained once power is lost. Instead, any file saves will be placed on storage.

Depending on the computer in question and its basic uses, there are various types of primary memory that one may procure. Cache memory is one of the most common types, that of which is utilized by a central processing unit (CPU). Cache memory is the most available to the microprocessor and will either be integrated directly with the CPU or be implemented on a separate chip.

Random access memory (RAM) is another common form of primary memory that is found within computers of all types, and it works alongside the computer processor to process data and information. RAM often comes in two main variations, those of which are dynamic and static RAM. Dynamic RAM, or DRAM, is a form of semiconductor memory device that stores data within capacitors, meaning that energy is gradually discharged over time. For its optimal functionality, dynamic RAM must be periodically refreshed to maintain the integrity of data. Static RAM, meanwhile, requires a consistent flow of power as all data is stored within transistors.

While RAM and cache memory are vital for the standard functionality of a computer system, there are other devices that one may take advantage of depending on their needs. Read-only memory, or ROM, refers to non-volatile computer storage that can only be read from. Typically, ROM will be used to store the programming necessary for a computer to start up whenever powered. ROM can come in a number of subtypes, those of which include programmable ROM (PROM), erasable PROM (EPROM), and electrically erasable PROM (EEPROM). Generally, these devices set themselves apart from one another in their varying abilities to be modified by a user.

Since the advent of computer technology, memory has seen significant advancements. While memory devices in the 1940s were often only capable of handling upwards of a few bytes at a time, modern memory devices now handle gigabytes of information at speeds that far outpace those of their predecessors. Additionally, technology continues to improve to this day as new materials, designs, and manufacturing techniques are used to enhance the capabilities of memory devices.

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