RAM and ROM are two common computer acronyms that many people take for granted. But what do they really mean, and what are the differences between the two?
RAM stands for “random access memory,” and is basically your computer’s short-term memory. Any open programs that you are currently running (such as Internet Explorer or Microsoft Word) are copied into RAM so that your system can access them faster and make them perform better.
RAM is typically measured in either megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB), and unless your computer is old, it probably has around 1 or 2 GB of RAM. The more RAM your computer has, the faster it can run programs and execute code. RAM comes in different types (such as DDR, DDR2, and ECC) and different speeds. Upgrading your RAM is one of the easiest ways to increase your system’s performance. To see how much RAM your Windows computer currently has, right-click on My Computer.
The majority of the RAM used by your computer is synchronous dynamic RAM, also called SD-RAM. It is made up of tiny transistors and capacitors stored on a memory stick, which (if you open up your computer) you can see sticking out of your motherboard. Many devices other than computers use RAM to store dynamic information – your toaster probably has a tiny bit of RAM inside it.
Another type of RAM your computer uses is NV-RAM (non-volatile RAM). Non-volatile RAM is sort of an oxymoron, since RAM can easily be changed. NV-RAM holds vital system information, and is also located on your motherboard, but it’s probably either soldered on or attached by tiny clips.
ROM, on the other hand, is static memory – it almost never changes. ROM stands for “read-only memory,” and is used to store information your computer needs to access, but doesn’t need to change. Your computer’s BIOS is stored on a ROM chip.
Information stored on ROM chips is also known as “firmware.” Whereas software refers to programs and applications and hardware refers to the physical devices and components that make up your computer, firmware is a set of system files and instructions that help your computer run.
Occasionally firmware will get upgraded – this can be accomplished by either downloading new firmware (which will be “flashed” onto your existing ROM chip) or by replacing the current ROM chip with a new one.
The average computer user will have far more interaction with RAM than with ROM, but it’s always good to know the difference between the two. Both are important types of memory, but they perform vastly different functions.