What Is RAM and Why Is It Important? (Examples and FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 2, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

One of the most important factors for a computer's performance is its random-access memory, commonly known as RAM. RAM temporarily records and stores functions, such as typing and the movement of your mouse. Understanding RAM can help you decide which computer to buy for optimal performance or when to upgrade an existing device to increase its speed. In this article, we answer the question, "What is RAM?", explore the importance of RAM and what it does, discover how much RAM is necessary for different purposes, list different types of RAM, and answer some frequently asked questions.

What is RAM?

There are many reasons you may ask "What is RAM?", such as if you're buying or upgrading a computer. RAM is a piece of hardware inside your device that stores and accesses data on a short-term basis. When the device turns off, the RAM erases all the unnecessary data. All computing devices, regardless of size, have RAM, including desktop computers, smart TVs, smartphones, and tablets. It's frequently a key factor in enabling your device to open and manage a variety of elements like files, games, and apps.

RAM usually relies on speed and latency for optimal performance. Speed refers to the speed at which data moves through the hardware, while latency refers to the time it takes between when you enter a command and when the data is available. With the combination of speed and latency, RAM can read and write data quickly, regardless of its type or location. Other storage systems, like hard drives, have mechanical factors, such as the rotation speed, that can limit the data's reading and writing speed.

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What does RAM do and why is it important?

RAM is essential for almost everything computing devices do, such as editing documents, browsing websites, and loading apps. The more RAM a device has, the better it can perform. For example, a computer without RAM relying solely on its central processing unit (CPU) presents an error message and cannot operate. To function and execute tasks, the RAM puts its information in front of the CPU. As an example, if you're working on a word document and you decide to save it for later, the document moves from the RAM and into the long-term storage of your hard drive.

The CPU is the electric circuitry that carries out instructions. It's common for people to refer to the CPU as the computer's brain. It frequently uses basic arithmetic, logic, controlling, and input/output operations to complete instructions, like when you open and change a file or application. With the RAM and CPU communicating together, devices can combine the use of short-term memory and long-term storage to select and save preferences. Without RAM, there usually isn't any information to store and without the CPU, the information may disappear after powering down your device.

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What is a good amount of RAM?

There are five common gigabyte sizes for RAM, which include 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. The maximum number of gigabytes of RAM you can have is 128GBs, but it's uncommon for anyone to require that much RAM. The amount of RAM people may need in their devices can vary depending on what software and applications they like to use.

The different sizes of RAM can allow you to operate devices at different speeds and with different capacities. For example, a computer with 4GB of RAM may take longer to open and load apps than a computer with 32GB. With more RAM, devices can run more programs at once and at a faster rate. Here are some features for each RAM size:

  • 4GB to 8GB: Users with four to eight gigabytes of RAM can open a fair number of browser tabs with enough memory available for using email, working with word document programs, and playing casual games.

  • 8GB to 16GB: With between eight and 16 gigabytes of RAM, you can open multiple browser tabs at once and access websites that display a lot of graphics while running various web applications and playing videos.

  • 16Gb to 32GB: Using between 16GB and 32GB of RAM can allow high-speed photo editing programs and high-resolution games to run effectively while still leaving a substantial amount of memory for other tasks, such as emailing and browsing the internet.

  • 32GB to 64GB+: You can run programs with excellent graphics at a high speed while performing multiple tasks such as playing video games, watching movies, and creating documents without consuming too much power or using too much memory.

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Different types of RAM

There are two primary types of RAM, commonly known as static random-access memory (SRAM) and dynamic random-access memory (DRAM). SRAM and DRAM are memory chips that process data in different ways. Here are descriptions for each type:

  • SRAM: Static random-access memory keeps data for as long as it has power. Using SRAM is often faster and uses less energy than DRAM, but it's typically more expensive.

  • DRAM: Dynamic random-access memory refreshes every few milliseconds while gathering and holding data. While DRAM requires and uses more power than SRAM, it's usually considered more practical because it can hold more data.

FAQs and answers about RAM

Here are a few frequently asked questions and answers about RAM:

What is ROM and how is it different from RAM?

ROM stands for read-only memory. It typically stores all the applications a computer or computing device requires for starting up. RAM is a volatile memory, which means it temporarily stores the files if there's power. ROM is a non-volatile memory that can store information permanently without refreshing content periodically. The CPU cannot directly access the information stored in the ROM. For information to reach the CPU from the ROM, data transfers from the ROM into the RAM, and then the processor can execute.

Each RAM and ROM are popular within the market, and there are advantages to both types of storage. While ROM stores read-only data, RAM can perform both read and write functions, which enables alteration. RAM has the advantage of not having any moving parts in its hardware, which makes its process completely silent. One of the biggest advantages of ROM is that the data doesn't disappear if you lose power.

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Does RAM slow down your computer?

RAM keeps your computer's CPU moving smoothly and quickly. An insufficient amount of RAM can cause your computer to lag, freeze when playing games or performing complex operations, or refuse to work entirely. Not having enough RAM can lead to problems such as random rebooting, freezing, and shutting down unexpectedly. Checking your device's task manager can often tell you if you have enough RAM in your computer.

Can you have too much RAM?

It's possible to have too much and not enough RAM. The amount of RAM you require often depends entirely on the functions you intend to perform. You may decide to buy extra RAM if you notice a decrease in your device's efficiency. Having too much RAM doesn't affect your device's ability to operate, but it can be an unnecessary expense if you're using your computer for minor tasks like occasional internet browsing or for playing games with low-resolution graphics. More than 16GB of RAM is typically only necessary if you're doing complex processes, such as animations or video editing.

What is the difference between low storage space and low memory?

If your computer is low on memory, you may be running too many applications or you may not have enough RAM to run the software you want. You can eliminate up to 90% of all low memory errors by restarting your computer, which clears the RAM. If you're low on disk space, it's referring to the hard drive. You may have too many programs or files on the computer. To fix it, you can either replace the hard drive, or you can uninstall unused programs and unnecessary files.

Storage refers to the permanent holding place for digital data. It can store data without power and until someone moves or deletes it, the information stays in the same place. The memory includes two components, the main memory and cache. The main memory contains both RAM and ROM.

Why is RAM called random-access memory?

RAM stands for "random-access" memory because any storage location is instantly reachable. This means it can access memory locations in any order, not just in a sequence of one, two, three. External hard drives typically use sequential processing, which means every aspect of data has a specific start and an end location. The term "random-access" also refers to the capability to both read and write data rather than "read-only" memory or ROM.

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