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Computer Components: What is RAM?

written by: heatherlorrmay•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 6/29/2011

Every computer has a memory. And like humans, a computer has short term and long term memory. The computer’s long term or permanent memory is usually covered by the hard drive. Random Access Memory, or RAM for short, is your computer's short term or temporary memory. Here we explain 'What is RAM?'

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    RAM

     Every computer has a memory.  And like humans, a computer has short term and long term memory.  The computer’s long term or permanent memory is usually covered by the hard drive. Random Access Memory, or RAM for short, is your computer's short term or temporary memory.  Even if you know nothing about computers you may have heard about RAM at some point.  RAM is the constant scapegoat for every computer problem experienced by man.  If you have ever had a computer problem or a glitch before, chances are someone told you the cure was more memory.

    RAM is very different that your computer’s long term memory solution, your hard drive, because there is no reading head or storage of the data.  RAM memory is filled by your computer software’s data in a first-come-first-served manner.  When you open the programs on your computer, the data needed to run the program fills up whatever slot is available in your memory and if you do not have enough room in your RAM for another program to store data your operating system will start to use your hard drive as a temporary storage location.  RAM memory is also wiped out when the power is shut down, which causes that classic situation of losing the document you have been working on for hours during a power outage.

    You can actually tell when your computer is using your hard drive for temporary storage instead of RAM because your computer’s response time and overall performance will begin to slow.  If you find it takes several minutes to open a program that usually is very responsive you may want to close other programs that are running to free up some space in your RAM.  If you find that new software is causing  your computer to run slow every day, you should consider upgrading the amount of RAM you have installed in your computer.

    Upgrading your computer’s RAM is one of the easiest upgrades you can complete.  All you need is compatible memory and a screwdriver.  There are several types of memory currently being used in computers today and every computer has a specific limit on the amount of RAM your computer’s motherboard and software can support.  To find the specific details on your computer’s limits you should check your manual or contact the manufacturer.  Once you have the technical information, (write it down), take that information to your local computer store and purchase the necessary and correct RAM.

    Most modern desktop and notebook computers have small doors or special panels you can remove to easily upgrade your RAM.  The entire process of installing new memory will usually take you less than 15 minutes, as long as you follow the instructions provided by your manufacturer.  You should also follow the general rule of computing, do not force anything.  There are often clamps or springs holding computer components to the motherboard and you do not want to break anything.

    Installing new RAM in your computer will increase your computer’s short-term memory but keep in mind that new software is constantly being produced that will tax your RAM needs and you may find yourself facing computer slowdowns again. Once you find yourself with the maximum amount of RAM installed in your computer and still face computer slow downs, you may need to invest in a new computer.

    Understanding your computer:

    >>>>What is the Motherboard?

    >>>>What is CPU?

    >>>>What is the Video Display?

    >>>>What is the Hard Drive?

    >>>>What is the Video Card?

    >>>>What is the CD-Rom/DVD?

    >>>>What is USB?