What is RAM memory?

what is ram

by Alex Gustman

Updated: April 14, 2021

Any electronics contains RAM chips, where the program code is executed and the intermediate data required by the processor is contained. No computer, smartphone, tablet or smartwatch can work without a RAM chip. Moreover, the device capabilities and performance are directly related to RAM. In this article, you will find answers to the following questions: what is RAM, how it works and where it is used, how much RAM is needed, as well as how to increase the available amount of memory.

What is RAM on a computer?

RAM is an abbreviation for Random Access Memory. RAM is a limited space of a volatile type, where the machine code of running applications is executed; temporary data necessary for the processor, video card or other components of an electronic computing device is stored.

RAM is made in the form of a chip, SRAM, or a module implemented on a printed circuit board,  DRAM. Both variants use capacitors for data storage, but differ in design and purpose.

SRAM does not need to be recharged regularly to store the recorded information. Therefore, the master controller is not required. The performance, as well as the cost of memory is higher compared to DRAM. Therefore, this type of memory is used in integrated circuits, where the amount of memory is not important, but compact size and high speed are required, for example, for data caching.

module ddr3 for netbook
Module ddr3 for netbook.

DRAM requires periodic recharging to store recorded information. At the time of charging, the memory is not available, which causes delays and affects performance. To control all processors, an appropriate controller is additionally required. On the other hand, the cost of memory in comparison with SRAM is lower. And the high density of compression allows you to produce modules up to 64 GB. Due to its affordable price and wide capacity, DRAM memory is used in computers and other electronics.

How does RAM work?

RAM modules contain several soldered chips with densely compressed cells of capacitors and transistors in several layers. One cell stores 1 byte of information and allows you to write up to 8 bits. Each cell is assigned with an address, which allows the controller to write and read data. Therefore, the more features are embedded in the controller, the higher the efficiency of information exchange.

A record is considered to have a positive charge on the capacitor, 1 electron is equal to 1 bit. Therefore, the electrons are captured by the gates and held until the end of the operation. With a certain frequency, the cells are overwritten. A new electron is placed in the gate, which prevents data loss.

The information in the RAM is stored while the modules are supplied with energy. The reboot of the operating system or a short-term loss of power completely resets all recorded cells.

Principle of Operation

The RAM is connected to all the components via the system bus, the channel where the data moves. When solving certain tasks, the RAM area is used as a buffer for running programs or storing information, which will be useful in the future. This approach is justified, since the RAM bandwidth is at least 200 times higher than hard drives.

For example, the processor has a limited amount of memory to use the required instructions.  Information that does not fit in the processor memory is placed in RAM and then used as needed. The video card works in the same way. If you run out of your own memory, textures and other data are moved to the RAM area for temporary storage.

If there is not enough space in RAM, the information is stored in the hard disk cache. In this case, the performance deteriorates. If the write is made to an SSD drive, the access delay is noticeably lower, while regular data I / O accelerates the wear of the solid-state drive.

Memory type

RAM modules for computers are labelled SO-DIMM and SDRAM. The first is used in laptops, and the second – in desktop computers. Moreover, SDRAM is divided into non-ECC and ECC. ECC memory uses automatic correction of memory bit errors, which is important in computers and servers with uninterrupted operation. Home PCs use regular non-ECC memory.

The capabilities and throughput are affected by the generation of RAM. As of September 2019, mainly DDR4 and DDR3 memory is used, while DDR2 and DDR are not in demand and are used by individual owners of old PCs. Each generation is not backward compatible.

ddr3 module for personal computer
DDR3 module for personal computer.

DDR3 modules are mainly used on old builds or decommissioned server hardware, which is very popular among home PC owners. Whereas the DDR4 slats are installed only in modern builds and are preferable to DDR3. This is due to the saturation of the market so that the cost of two generations of RAM is equal. At the same time, the operating frequency of DDR4, as well as the peak data transfer rate, exceeds the performance of DDR3, and the reduced voltage and overclocking margin allow you to increase the base values. The high-speed performance of DDR3 barely catches up with the initial values of DDR4 under extreme overclocking. Moreover, only a single memory obeys high frequencies, and even under the condition of the overclocking function in the motherboard.

How much RAM is needed

The memory amount is affected by the tasks assigned and the type of device. The higher the requirements, the more memory is required.

Smart watches and Wristbands

For accessories that work in conjunction with a smartphone, 256 or 512 MB is enough. If the device works separately, it is advisable to choose a 512 MB model.

Smartphones and Tablets

Minimum of 2 GB when using “pure Android” or Android GO. If you use a third-party environment – 3 GB. The optimal size is 4–6 GB, taking into account the use of large applications: Facebook Instagram, Facebook Messenger, etc. For those who like to play games, it is desirable to have at least 4 GB, for heavy games, it is better to have 6–8 GB.

free memory in smartphone

For laptops and PCs

  • At least 4–6 GB for working with documents, movies and the Internet.
  • Optimal 8–12 GB for the Internet and most games.
  • The best option is 16 GB, which will allow you to play and work.
  • 32 GB or higher is recommended for workstations, high-performance servers, programming, or modeling. More for video editing.

For your information! Laptops often require 1-2 GB of additional RAM for the needs of the video card. Since the internal memory in the video card is not often installed, which requires the use of RAM. In computers that use processors with a built-in graphics core without a discrete graphics card, up to 2 GB of RAM is also required.

How to increase the amount of RAM

In wrist accessories, smartphones, tablets, and some mini laptops, it is not possible to expand the memory. The units are soldered directly to the motherboard. Attempts to increase memory are difficult and financially impractical.

In laptops and computers designed for home use, there are usually 2–4 slots for installing RAM modules. If the slots are occupied, then the available memory should be replaced with more capacious modules. In server motherboards, there are 6-12 slots each. Moreover, 8-12 slots are found only in dual-processor motherboards.


The article describes in detail what RAM is, the structure and the principle of operation. There is also an explanation for the type of RAM, how much you need and how to increase the amount of RAM. No device is complete without RAM, which simultaneously serves as a clipboard and an environment for running applications. Moreover, in most tasks, performance is determined by the amount of available memory and frequency.

And what is the type of memory in your computer and mobile device? Leave the characteristics in the comments below the article, and at the same time tell us whether you are satisfied with the current characteristics of your RAM or it’s time to update.

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About the author 

Alex Gustman

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