Memory

Computer memory is any physical device capable of storing information temporarily or permanently. For example, Random Access Memory (RAM), is a volatile memory that stores information on an integrated circuit used by the operating system, software, and hardware.

What does computer memory look like?

Below is an example picture of a 512 MB DIMM computer memory module. This memory module connects to the memory slot on a computer motherboard.

Computer memory

Volatile vs. non-volatile memory

Memory can be either volatile and non-volatile memory. Volatile memory is a memory that loses its contents when the computer or hardware device loses power. Computer RAM is an example of a volatile memory and is why if your computer freezes or reboots when working on a program, you lose anything that hasn’t been saved. Non-volatile memory, sometimes abbreviated as NVRAM, is a memory that keeps its contents even if the power is lost. EPROM is an example of a non-volatile memory.

What happens to memory when the computer is turned off?

As mentioned above because memory (RAM) is a volatile memory when the computer loses power anything stored in RAM is lost. For example, as you are working on creating a document it is stored in RAM if it is not saved to a non-volatile memory (e.g. the hard drive) it would be lost if the computer lost power.

Memory is not disk storage

storageIt is very common for new computer users to be confused by what parts in the computer are memory. Although both the hard drive and RAM are memory, it is more appropriate to refer to RAM as “memory” or “primary memory” and a hard drive as “storage” or “secondary storage.”

When someone asks how much memory is in your computer, it is often between 1 GB and 16 GB of Random Access Memory (RAM) and several hundred gigabytes of even a terabyte of hard disk drive storage. In other words, you always have more hard drive space than RAM.

How is memory used

When a program such as your Internet browser is open, it is loaded from your hard drive and placed into RAM, which allows that program to communicate with the processor at higher speeds. Anything you save to your computer, such as a picture or video, is sent to your hard drive for storage.

Why is memory important or needed for a computer?

All of devices on a computer do not operate at the same speed and computer memory gives your computer a place to quickly access data. If the CPU had to wait for a secondary storage device like a hard disk drive the computer would be much slower.

Types of RAM

Some of the more common types of memory chips for computers are listed below.

  • EDO RAM
  • SDRAM
  • DDR RAM
  • DDR2 RAM
  • DDR3 RAM
  • DDR4 RAM

 What is the difference between a 32-bit and 64-bit CPU?

The two main categories of processors are 32-bit and 64-bit. The type of processor a computer has not only affects its overall performance, but it can also dictate what type of software it uses.

32-bit processor

The 32-bit processor was the primary processor used in all computers until the early 1990s. Intel Pentium processors and early AMD processors were 32-bit processors. The operating system and software on a computer with a 32-bit processor is also 32-bit based, in that they work with data units that are 32 bits wide. Windows 95, 98, and XP are all 32-bit operating systems that were common on computers with 32-bit processors.

Note: A computer with a 32-bit processor cannot have a 64-bit version of an operating system installed. It can only have a 32-bit version of an operating system installed.

64-bit processor

The 64-bit computer has been around since 1961 when IBM created the IBM 7030 Stretch supercomputer. However, it was not put into use in home computers until the early 2000s. Microsoft released a 64-bit version of Windows XP to be used on computers with a 64-bit processor. Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 also come in 64-bit versions. Other software has been developed that is designed to run on a 64-bit computer, which are 64-bit based as well, in that they work with data units that are 64 bits wide.

Note: A computer with a 64-bit processor can have a 64-bit or 32-bit version of an operating system installed. However, with a 32-bit operating system, the 64-bit processor would not run at its full capability.

Note: On a computer with a 64-bit processor, you cannot run a 16-bit legacy program. Many 32-bit programs will work with a 64-bit processor and operating system, but some older 32-bit programs may not function properly, or at all, due to limited or no compatibility.

Differences between a 32-bit and 64-bit CPU

A big difference between 32-bit processors and 64-bit processors is the number of calculations per second they can perform, which affects the speed at which they can complete tasks. 64-bit processors can come in dual core, quad core, six core, and eight core versions for home computing. Multiple cores allow for an increased number of calculations per second that can be performed, which can increase the processing power and help make a computer run faster. Software programs that require many calculations to function smoothly can operate faster and more efficiently on the multi-core 64-bit processors, for the most part.

Another big difference between 32-bit processors and 64-bit processors is the maximum amount of memory (RAM) that is supported. 32-bit computers support a maximum of 3-4GB of memory, whereas a 64-bit computer can support memory amounts over 4 GB. This feature is important for software programs used in graphic design, engineering, and video editing as these programs have to perform many calculations to render their images.

One thing to note is that 3D graphic programs and games do not benefit much, if at all, from switching to a 64-bit computer, unless the program is a 64-bit program. A 32-bit processor is adequate for any program written for a 32-bit processor. In the case of computer games, you’ll get a lot more performance by upgrading the video card instead of getting a 64-bit processor.

In the end, 64-bit processors are becoming more and more commonplace in home computers. Most manufacturers build computers with 64-bit processors due to cheaper prices and because more users are now using 64-bit operating systems and programs. Computer parts retailers are offering fewer and fewer 32-bit processors and soon may not offer any at all.

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