Computer memory is a complex topic that can be a simple answer to many computing issues everyone will undoubtedly face someday. So often, individuals have had to deal with a device saying it was low on memory, or that a hard disk drive was running out of space. These issues affect every computer’s performance and ability to perform necessary functions.
Note: If you are looking for Kingston’s original Ultimate Memory Guide, you can download the PDF here. Kingston’s original guide is an incredibly in-depth and technical explanation and a wealth of knowledge.
Given how important a computer’s memory is to its overall functionality, why does it seem like there isn’t much that’s widely known about it? For instance, what is memory, or RAM? What is the difference between memory and storage? How does memory relate to overall performance and server performance? What memory upgrades are available for different levels of computing, such as those for gaming or multimedia purposes? What about the difference between desktop and laptop memory? And what about options to upgrade or add memory to devices? All of these and more are the focus of the ultimate guide to computer memory, where the complex and often difficult to understand topic will be broken down in plain English. By breaking down both the meaning of computer memory and ways to upgrade and improve memory, this guide will make it easier for every computer user to understand the technology behind these vital machines.
What Is Random Access Memory (RAM)?
Computers run on Random Access Memory or RAM. RAM is also referred to as main memory, primary memory, or system memory. A hardware device, RAM is what allows information to be stored on a computer and retrieved by the user as needed.RAM functions in a different way than other types of memory devices. Whereas hard drives and other storage devices allow memory to be accessed sequentially, RAM accesses the information randomly. Hence the “Random” of Random Access Memory. By accessing the information in a random fashion, the user’s access to it is significantly quicker than if it were done sequentially. This provides the user with a distinct advantage over memory saved on other internal and external storage devices, which take longer to access the information, since it must be done in order
What Is The Difference Between Memory And Storage?
RAM and DRAM operate during the operation of applications on a computer. When an app is open, or a document is being worked on or during pretty much any other function the computer is working on, memory is being used. This is part of why RAM and DRAM are allowed to be used as memory. Their volatility doesn’t matter as much since they’re mostly only being used while the computer is operating. Storage, on the other hand, allows the information to be recalled as many times as necessary. Data such as documents, emails, media, and more are kept on hard drives or other storage sources. This way, they’re preserved even after the computer is shut down. RAM and DRAM information is lost whenever the computer is shut down, freeing up memory for the next time the computer is open.
What Are Some Non-Volatile Storage Sources?
Users frustrated by losing their work due to a random crash or forgetting to save it before shutting down their computer should look to a non-volatile memory source to alleviate their frustrations. Non-volatile memory sources save the information even if the computer is shut down unexpectedly. This is a significant benefit to this type of memory over volatile sources, even if it takes longer to retrieve the desired information
Users have other ways to store memory on external sources. A simple USB Flash Drive, which functions the same way an external hard drive does, provides a more convenient method of storing information. While external hard drives are larger in capacity, they’re also larger in size. They also come with the downside of frequently needing to be plugged into an outlet. Flash drives serve to hold information while at a much more convenient size. Often referred to as thumb drives, they’re smaller devices that plug into a USB port. This is a simple way to store excess information and files. Thumb drives are often used for storing documents and information that take up less space. However, these still offer a non-volatile option for storage of important information.CDs and DVDs also serve as a non-volatile option for memory storage. CD and DVD-RWs are rewritable disks that can be used to store smaller amounts of information. Typically, they hold the same amount of media storage as regular CDs and DVDs do, which equals approximately 80 minutes of music on CDs and a couple hours of videos on DVDs. They also offer the ability to hold documents and photos. However, they don’t offer quite the functionality that thumb drives do. They aren’t able to be rewritten as often as thumb drives are. This can cause issues for the user, but doesn’t prevent them from serving an important purpose for users looking for a way to store information outside of their hard drive or on a non-volatile memory system, instead of on RAM on DRAM.ROM, or read only memory, is a non-volatile memory source that doesn’t have as much functionality as many other memory types. As the name suggests, ROM doesn’t allow the user to do anything with the information stored except read it. This is a major downside compared to other types of memory. Reading the file, and having it available, is great, but users will undoubtedly want to make changes to the file at some point. Not having that option with ROM can frustrate users and cause them hours of annoyance.
Does RAM Need To Be Changed On Every Computer?
Computers come with a standard amount of RAM, based on the model and type, among other things. While users can customize devices as they’re ordering or make their purchase in-store based on different factors, RAM can also be changed once a computer is bought. Is that always necessary? It depends on the intended use of the computer. For purposes, such as gaming or work with multimedia editing platforms, you might want to upgrade the RAM. Users will also want to look into upgrading their RAM should their computer be outdated. These machines are generally slower than newer devices, and an upgrade will help the user perform more functions at a quicker level than if owers left it alone. Those who work with big databases and large files should also consider upgrading their RAM. This allows them to keep their computers functioning at a high-level, even as they use more and more memory. The overall decision should be made based on the user’s needs. No one should feel compelled to upgrade their RAM simply because it’s something they’ve heard of before. General purpose users will be fine with the amount their computer comes standard with. However, for those using their computer for higher-level purposes involving significant amounts of memory, an upgrade of the device’s RAM could well offer greater functionality.
How Does RAM affect Computer Performance?
RAM issues can have a detrimental and debilitating effect on a computer’s performance. These issues can even have a negative impact on something as simple as the operating system the operator wants to run. For example, 64 MB of RAM used to be an option for many computers. With this amount of RAM, however, the user would have a nearly impossible time running an operating system as outdated as Windows XP. This operating system didn’t have nearly the functionality of newer operating systems for Windows, such as 7, 8, and 10. Being unable to upgrade to a higher quality operating system causes serious frustrations and difficulties for users.Typically, four to six gigabytes of RAM are needed for standard operating procedures on computers. While this isn’t necessarily a definitive number, it offers a solid indicator as to how much RAM will offer the basic capabilities needed by the typical user. Any less, and issues start to arise. If the user starts to use more programs that take up a greater amount of memory, even more issues arise. Simply using one or two high-memory functions can slow a computer that is in fine shape to a halt. This prevents users from being able to do many essential tasks, such as browsing the web, retrieving their emails, or creating and editing documents. Being unable to perform these tasks is unbearable to many individuals who need their computers for work or keeping in touch with relatives from far away. Even worse, though, is when RAM impacts a system in a negative way.Servers frequently require significantly more RAM for their functions than regular computers do. The additional RAM allows greater functionality for multiple computers operating on the same server. This is especially true if the users are performing higher-level functions than the standard ones used most frequently by your average individual.
High-level functions related to database management, media recording, and
RAM is one of the most vital aspects that determines the performance of a computer. Not enough, and the user is plagued by a slow-performing machine that causes more frustration than any benefits offered. However, when enough RAM is available, computers operate at speeds that allow the user to perform even the most complex of functions, including high-level gaming and difficult database functions. This kind of functionality isn’t available on standard computers, however. Many users who choose to perform high-level gaming, multimedia and database functions choose to upgrade their machines to ensure they don’t face slow-downs, lag, or other issues related to having less memory than is necessary.
Higher functions on computers require greater amounts of RAM to perform at the level needed for their users. Computer game enthusiasts, producers of multimedia, and database users require significantly more RAM than the standard user does. Performing these tasks without unnecessary issues keep gamers and producers happy. Additional RAM can prevent the kinds of lag and slowdowns that lead to frustration and anger at the devices being used for these functions. Instead of gamers throwing their mouses and keyboards at their monitors, they can enjoy their game at a greater speed without experiencing unnecessary lapses and a lower frame per second rate than other players. Producers of movies and music can create their art in real-time, without random pauses in their applications causing issues. Database operators can keep their systems updated without losing information due to a lack of memory.
Gamers are not likely to be satisfied with the stock RAM on their computer. The high level of functionality required for most PC games means more memory is needed to run them at the proper speed. While four GB is the minimum for most gamers, this can still lead to problems. Upgrading to the highest available RAM for the individual computer is in the best interest of gamers. They need to be able to operate their games at a level of 60 frames per second to ensure the best quality and keep up with their opponents. If they operate at a standard level of RAM, their speed could be slowed to 12 frames per second. At that speed, lag is the least of their concerns. They’ll be completely unable to keep up with their competition, leading to intense amounts of frustration and anger. Avoiding this is as simple as ensuring the device is operating at as great speed as possible. This means upgrading the computer to have as much RAM available as possible.
For Media Producers
Media producers face a similar issue to gamers, though with slightly different consequences. Many producers rely on their ability to complete videos and music projects for their livelihoods. Being unable to keep up with the required workload can cause a delay in production. This delay can cost the producer money and jobs. Memory and functionality issues aren’t something a career producer can afford. No circumstances can allow for these delays. As such, they need to upgrade their RAM in much the same way that gamers do. With their careers on the line, producers can’t be bogged down by a computer that isn’t operating at the quickest speeds possible. The number of applications producers have running at one time, and the memory they require, take more than the standard two to four GB found on many computers. Same can be said for database operators, as their ability to perform high-level functions and run complicated applications is crucial to their ability to perform their duties.
For Database Operators
Database operators run complex applications and as such need greater RAM and memory than normal computers. Keeping a high level of RAM is a key to their ability to operate the necessary level. If a database operator were to experience a slow-down in production or their applications, there would be serious consequences. The servers they work with and computers they use have to be running at top speeds. Anything less, and they won’t be as effective as they could be, having a detrimental impact on the amount they’re able to do and their productivity. Limited productivity for database operators isn’t something they can afford, nor is it something they’ll accept.
Desktop Memory Vs. Laptop Memory
Memory runs on physical computer chips. These chips include capacitors and transistors, which help facilitate the flow of memory and information on computers. The physical microprocessors determine the amount of RAM, or in many cases now DRAM, available to the users.Desktops often have a greater amount of memory available than laptops. Since desktops are larger than laptops, this is relatively easy to understand. RAM and DRAM require physical microprocessors. The bigger the computer, the greater the amount of RAM or DRAM available. This makes desktops the primary choice for gamers, database operators, and producers. The size of desktops also offers a greater ability to increase the amount of memory available. Laptops also offer the ability to increase RAM. However, given the size constraints associated with them, they have fewer options available to increase their memory.The typical laptop runs about four GB of RAM. This allows for many standard applications to operate at high levels of efficiency. Editing or creating documents, using the internet, and sending and receiving emails are functions that run smoothly on this amount of memory. Most computer users will be more than satisfied by this standard level of RAM. In fact, most users won’t even need to worry about changes to the default RAM standards on their machine. Upgrades aren’t necessary and are in fact ill-advised for these users. The increased memory will allow their computers to operate at a faster rate, but also costs the user money that can be better spent on other purposes.Desktops usually bottom out at four GB of RAM. Again, many users will find this amount satisfactory for their needs, but desktops function better with a slightly higher level of memory than laptops. The optimal amount of RAM for a desktop is eight GB, double that of a laptop. This will give desktop users a greater experience and increased functionality. Their applications will work better and run smoother than if the machine was operating with the minimal four GB. However, if users wanted to upgrade to the highest-quality system without upgrading to a specialized system, 16 GB is the answer. This provides the greatest experience available on a standard machine, without upgrading to a top of the line machine used for gaming and other higher-level functions.
Consumers have a lot of options when it comes to equipment that can upgrade a computer’s memory. Different brands and amounts of RAM are available for different computers and needs. Choosing the right equipment for the user’s needs depends on the purpose they want to use their computer for. Certain functions still require a greater amount of computing power, while others simply require a minimum amount of memory. Memory upgrade kits are available in sizes ranging from small, 512MB to add a minimal amount of processing speed, to large, in the range of hundreds of gigabytes of RAM. These upgrade kits range in price depending on size and brand as well. Cheaper kits start around $16, offering less RAM but still increasing the overall abilities of your computer. Higher level kits cost thousands of dollars. These aren’t for the typical user. They are meant for specialized users, who plan on upgrading their computer to the highest available levels. Gamers, producers, and the like are most likely to consider one of these kits. However, many instead will opt to build their computers and will use that to customize the RAM for their individual needs. Building custom computers has become a trend in recent years. Sites now offer more customization, decreasing the reliance on standard levels of RAM. These options work great for gamers, as they build machines with the highest quality graphics cards and more than enough memory to prevent lag and operate at the top possible level.
How To Buy More Memory
The decision to purchase more memory for a computer is one user’s shouldn’t make lightly. This likely isn’t a cheap or easy process. Consulting an expert first can save the user a lot of hassle and headaches later on. Visiting a local computer shop or trusted retailer such as a Best Buy offers consumers the ability to consult with a trained professional. These individuals can help ensure the user is getting the best deal without making an unnecessary purchase for their device. Individuals who are technologically savvy can make this purchase on their own. They will have a deep understanding of their needs and wants for the computer they are working on. This knowledge also allows them to find a lower price on their memory upgrades. However, they also have to be careful when installing the additional memory. Doing it wrong can prove to be a serious problem, as it will cause issues and prevent their computer from functioning properly.
How to install memory
The process of installing new memory in a computer is shockingly simple, especially given the importance of RAM to these devices. In fact, installing RAM on a computer is one of the easier parts of adding RAM to personal computers. Users should start by taking their machine apart. Tutorials are available online to help with this process. Important safety tips: staying grounded while working on a computer is key, as static electricity can cause issues both for the computer and the user. It is also of utmost importance that the computer is unplugged and turned off when installing new memory. This might seem like a common-sense move, but is an important step in ensuring the safety of the individual doing the installation. If an individual doesn’t feel comfortable installing the memory themselves, finding an expert to help is recommended. Installing RAM the wrong way is a costly error that can cost the user their current computer and the additional memory they just purchased for their device. Once the computer is taken apart, the motherboards should be taken out. Here, the user will be able to see the sticks of RAM similar to their new equipment. To remove the RAM on the motherboard, gently push down on the tabs on either side at the same time. This will take firm but not aggressive force. Pushing too hard can damage the motherboard, but it takes a certain amount of force to remove the RAM from their positions. The rest of the process is essentially the reverse of the previous steps. Once the old RAM sticks are removed, place the new sticks in the same slot. From here, the user should firmly but gently push on the stick. The slots that held in the Old RAM will snap into place. Replace the motherboards in the machine, and the new RAM will work once it is rebooted.
Not all RAM is created equal. As such, not all RAM kits are compatible with every computer. Purchasing an incompatible RAM kit is worthless. RAM that doesn’t work with a computer is of no use to the individual, and can only function as an expensive paperweight. Checking the kind of RAM a computer has is critical in determining the type of kit to buy. Most modern computers run on newer kinds of RAM, specifically fourth generation double data rate (DDR 4) memory. This is the newest kind of technology associated with a computer’s memory. Older types start at a single data rate (SDR), which is found on most equipment made before 2002. From that point on, double data rate (DDR) technology became standard. DDR technology has frequently upgraded since that point, and the fourth generation became commonplace starting in 2014. Users looking at upgrades need to know the memory technology their device is running on. Buying an SDR upgrade kit will do no good on a device running on DDR 3 technology. Knowing their equipment will save an individual money, frustration, and trips to the store. This simple act is key to boosting the memory of a computer and giving the user greater functionality at a faster rate.
The Evolution Of Memory
Computer memory has changed significantly in the decades since the first computer came into existence. Old devices operated on systems that would shock today’s users. These outdated systems seem foreign given the memory power of today’s machines, but were important first steps on the road to today’s computers.Starting in the 1940s, computers frequently functioned on similar technology as other devices popular to the time. In 1947, a tube similar to that used in televisions at the time was used to store memory of early computers. This process kept information in the form of dots. These dots were constantly refreshed to keep the information flowing.Two years later, a team at Cambridge University started work on a memory system that relied on mercury. This is a process that is outdated and would be considered a grave safety risk by today’s standards. However, at the time it was an incredible advancement in computer technology. Not knowing then what is now known about the dangers of mercury poisoning, this advancement helped pave the way for more efficient and less dangerous methods of computing memory.Computers began to serve the vital purpose of codebreaking during WWII. Following this advancement, countries around the world began a race to create computer and memory systems that that could produce the necessary computing power to crack even the most complicated of codes. In 1950, the United States Navy contracted with a private firm, Engineering Research Associates, to construct one such system. Engineering Research Associates created a new computer called the Atlas. This machine used a memory system operated by a magnetic drum. The system stored information on a metal cylinder outside of the magnetic drum. The Atlas was eventually sold commercially by Engineering Research Associates, renamed as the ERA 1103.At the same time, a professor at MIT was working on similar technology.
Jay Forrester’s creation, the magnetic core memory plane, became the first random access memory system that was both reliable and operated at high speed. This system was widely popular on commercial computers for more than 20 years.The next advance in memory technology was the tape drive. Created by UNIVAC in 1951, this memory system made use of magnetic tapes that weighed up to three pounds and were as long as 1,500 feet. This system offered some of the greatest functionality seen in computers at the time and was widely popular for commercial use.IBM jumped on the magnetic tape memory system bandwagon in 1952. Their version of this technology could store up to two million digits on each tape. This was unheard of at the time. Also unheard of at the time was the price to rent IBM’s equipment: the 726 Model went for $850 per month. That comes out to more than $7,500 a month by today’s standards.Jay Forrester, the MIT professor, popped back on the memory scene in 1953. Forrester and his team are credited with creating the Whirlwind, which became the first magnetic core memory system in the world. This new system used magnetic donuts that were magnetized one way for a “zero,” and another way for a “one.” These systems were popular for years. While other systems were also created between 1953 and the time this type of memory became obsolete 18 years later, it was quite popular during that time.Following the success of the Whirlwind, magnetic memory systems became the new “it” item for the still young computer movement.
Computers still hadn’t advanced very far, but the way information was stored on them was rapidly changing. While the first form of random access memory was created by Forrester in the early 1950s, the beginning of the next decade brought about a technology that would change the computing world.Card Random Access Memory came into being in 1963. Random access memory is still used today and is largely based on this system. While an incredibly primitive technology compared to today’s RAM, CRAM provided a stepping stone for innovators that helped create the system still in use at present. CRAM decks held 256 cards at a time. Each deck contained more than five megabytes of memory and offered a significant amount of computing power compared to other systems of the time. The development of CRAM led to the next advancement in random access memory, which helped to change the world.On April 4, 1966, the world was introduced to a memory system designed by Signetics. Their 8-bit RAM system was designed for the SDS Sigma 7 computer. This new system helped to change the course of computers through the present day.At the same time, IBM was becoming a leader in storage technology. Though different from memory, the advances from IBM regarding computing storage was still a significant leap forward for computers. IBM’s disk cartridge held one megabyte of storage, holding a sizable amount of information at the time. These cartridges were easily transported, a big step forward in the early 1960s. Especially considering where computers were just a few years prior. During this decade, IBM also created the first read-only storage system. Despite a lack of functionality, the read-only memory system is still found on computers today.From codebreaking machines to devices storing significant amounts of information, computers saw tremendous advancements during the 1950s and 60s. The following decades saw even greater advances as computers became even more popular among the general public, government entities, and private companies.The 1970s saw the creation of one of the most iconic forms of storage for a computer every used. The floppy disk was developed by IBM as a way to easily move files from one computer to another. This technology stuck around for decades as one of the most common forms of external storage. Though outdated by today’s standards, floppy disks are still recognized the world over, an iconic image forever associated with computers and similar technology.IBM continued to lead the way in advancements in computer technology during the 70s. At the start of the decade, IBM launched its first all semiconductor run computer. This departure from magnetic cores was unheard of at the time and served as the next step on the road to today’s RAM systems.
The semiconductor system used by IBM was able to hold the same amount of information as IBM’s other systems, yet took up half the space. This new, more efficient model of computing from IBM set a precedent for other companies to attempt to keep up with. However, IBM continued to far outstrip its competition in the field. It would take decades for other companies to catch up.In an attempt to keep up with IBM, another familiar name to today’s consumers released the first of many memory chips to come. Intel, a world-renowned leader in computer processors, released the 1103 memory chip. This 1KB chip would forever change computers. In one fell swoop, Intel had killed the magnetic core memory system, ending the decades-long reign that technology had in the computing world. With the 1103, Intel also joined IBM as a force to be reckoned with in the world of computer technology, especially as it relates to memory and processing.IBM wasn’t prepared to let Intel have the last word in computers for the early 70s, however. In 1974, IBM extended its hold on the world of computer storage with the creation of the 3850 mass storage system. Holding up to 236 GB, IBM held the system up as a more efficient way to store information. This was one of the first attempts to make computer memory and storage systems something consumers could use at home and led computer companies on the path to where we are today.Interestingly, the 1970s and 80s began the craze of gamers using top of the line systems to run their programs.
Bubble memory technology from Intel was used in a number of gaming systems at this time. The technology was chosen because of its ability to function at a greater speed. Intel’s new technology was also used in machine tool controllers, showing the world that high-powered systems could be used for applications that had to run well each and every time.With RAM taking over the memory world, storage became the focus of the late 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. Advancements previously mentioned, such as the CD, DVD, and flash drives all came into being during this time. These new technologies signaled the end of the iconic floppy disk, though. Much like how RAM systems were more efficient than magnetic core memory was, new storage technologies caused the floppy disk to become obsolete.All of these advancements set the stage for where computer memory is today. Gone are the days of computers that fill the wall of a room. The world no longer relies on dangerous chemicals, such as mercury, for memory systems. Tubes used for televisions are no longer a remotely useful technology in our ever-changing world. Today, everyone’s computers can be personalized at will. Individuals start out with a skeleton laptop or desktop and turn it into a highly-functioning machine, capable of running a large number of complex applications at once. Memory can be upgraded for an affordable price. External storage options hold more data than internal systems many times over. Perhaps the most important development, however, is in terms of price. Whereas the simple rental of a computer used to run thousands of dollars a month regarding modern-day dollars, computers are now commonplace in many households. Starting prices are lower than a monthly car payment, and is frequently one of the top purchases for families and individuals.These advances show how far the world has come in the last 60 years. The next 60 years will have to continue to tackle the main issues plaguing computer memory systems, such as volatile memory systems, the efficiency with which applications and programs run, and the ease at which RAM upgrades can be installed.Computer memory will continue to evolve as the needs of users change. While Intel still creates some of the world’s most used processors, and IBM is still a leading company for business computing needs, nearly every other aspect related to computer memory is evolving. Even the functions users need to run well are constantly changing. Years ago, no one could have guessed the way streaming technology would have taken over the world.
This new application requires more memory than most individuals could have guessed they would need before. Even the way music is listened to has changed. Programs such as Spotify use up more RAM than traditional music players. What these new technologies take up in RAM, they free up in terms of storage. With so much of a previous focus on ways to free up storage, as that was the needed at the time, the computing world still has much to do to catch up with the memory needs of their customers. Further evolution will catch up with the memory needs individuals have for new applications. When it does, even more, new applications will create new needs.The ever-evolving world of computers has now fallen behind the needs of its customer base. As it catches up, new problems will arise, and the cycle will continue.This guide to computer memory should help the average user understand the basics of memory, differences between memory and storage, why more memory is needed for certain types of computing, and how the world went from memory systems that would now be considered dangerous to where we are today. Having an understanding of the inner workings of computers can help users figure out their needs, troubleshoot issues, and know what questions to ask when purchasing their next device.