What is Computer Memory?

Computer memory is basically a short term data storage area that resides in your computer in the form of a chip. The term memory is commonly confused with the hard disk space, or hard drive. The memory and hard drive are actually two different types of storage.

The hard drive is an actual physical drive and uses a disc to store data. The hard drive is considered long term memory because the data remains even if the power is shut off. On the other hand computer memory usually refers to RAM, or Random Access Memory. This type of memory temporarily saves data to chips to be accessed by the computer’s processor.


Types of Memory

There are many different types of memory in the standard computer. Computer memory can be separated into two broad categories, Volatile and Nonvolatile. Volatile memory is temporary memory that is lost when power is turned off and nonvolatile memory is not lost when power is turned off. Below is a short list and a brief explanation of a few types of volatile and nonvolatile memory.

RAM (Random Access Memory): is a volatile type of computer memory that is used to store applications that are currently in use. This allows for the processor to access these files at the most efficient speed. If you did not have RAM the processor would have to access the data need from the hard drive, which is much slower than RAM. There are several different types of RAM on the market, each with its own use.

What is Computer Memory?

ROM (Read Only Memory): is a nonvolatile type of computer memory that is usually used for the computer bios. ROM chips are preprogrammed at the time of manufacturing. There are actually five different types of ROM.

Cache: is a volatile type of computer memory that is actually a type of very fast RAM. This RAM is called SRAM or Static Random Access Memory. This type of memory is very fast and very expensive. The cache stores data for use with the hardware, usually the processor or graphics card. There can be more than one cache per piece of hardware, usually referred to as L1 or L2 Cache.

Virtual Memory: is a little bit different than the above forms of memory. Virtual memory is actually space on your hard drive. The basic principle behind virtual memory is that when you run out of RAM the hard drive can store data from the RAM in what is called a page file. The benefit is that as long as you have storage space on your hard drive it can make your computer feel like it has unlimited RAM. Although you will be able to run the programs with out “Out of Memory Errors” the process of retrieving data from virtual memory is a lot slower. This is because the hard drive transfers data at slower rates than does your RAM. Also the hard drive was not meant to retrieve specific data files in this way.