Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What Is RAM? How Does It Affect Performance?

RAM stands for Random Access Memory. What this means is that your computer can store and access information (bytes) in a memory slot at "random" without touching the preceding data.

So what is the difference between a hard drive and RAM? A hard drive is used to permanently store data (such as documents, pictures, music etc) where as RAM is used to temporarily store information for running programs.

For example if you are playing a computer game, thousands of times a second that game will be storing and recalling data from the RAM in order to run the processes it requires to operate. If you close the game then all this memory will be emptied, and your progress will not be saved. If, however, before you closed the game, you "saved" your status, what this would do would write a file permanently to the hard drive that can be then reloaded by the program at a later date. RAM will also be emptied upon shutting down your computer, resulting in all data stored in it being lost.

The type of RAM you most likely have in your computer will be called "DDR" RAM (DDR stands for double data rate), and is referred to as DDR, DDR2, DDR3 and the newest (and very uncommon at the time of writing) DDR4. The larger the DDR number, the faster the RAM can communicate with the processor, resulting in faster computing speeds.

Operating systems such as Windows Vista were notorious for being very "memory intensive" meaning that simply to run the background operating system a large amount of the RAM was taken up and inaccessible to any other application. This resulted in very slow running speeds, a problem Microsoft attempted to rectify in Windows 7, fairly successfully.

A fairly common modern adaptation of RAM is the concept of "shared" graphics cards. These are usually graphics adaptors that are built into the motherboard of a computer and instead of having their own dedicated memory (like the majority of more expensive PCI graphics cards) take control of large blocks of RAM (usually around 1GB) for the sole purpose of running graphics processing. This again can often result in machines with high amounts of RAM noticing a significant decline in performance as soon as any kind of heavy graphical strain is put on the system (such as running a 3D game).

Simon Friling is the Lead Engineer at Archeon Computer Services

Much of my day to day duties revolve around running "tune ups" on customers computers! I wrote an e-book showing people how to do this from the comfort of their own home, and see fantastic results in a very short space of time.

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