Alternatively referred to as main memory, primary memory, or system memory, Random Access Memory (RAM) is a hardware device that allows information to be stored and retrieved on a computer. RAM is usually associated with DRAM, which is a type of memory module. Because information is accessed randomly instead of sequentially like it is on a CD or hard drive, the computer can access the data much faster. However, unlike ROM or a the hard drive, RAM is a volatile memory and requires power to keep the data accessible; if power is lost all data contained in memory lost.
As the computer boots, parts of the operating system and drivers are loaded into memory, which allows the CPU to process the instructions faster and speeds up the boot process. After the operating system has loaded, each program you open, such as the browser you're using to view this page, is loaded into memory while it is running. If too many programs are open the computer will swap the data in the memory between the RAM and the hard disk drive.
Over the evolution of the computer there have been different variations of RAM. Some of the more common examples are DIMM, RIMM, SIMM, SO-DIMM, and SOO-RIMM. Below is an example image of a 512MB DIMM computer memory module, a typical piece of RAM found in desktop computers. This memory module would be installed into one of the memory slots on a motherboard.
Tip: New users often confuse RAM with disk drive space. See our memory definition for a comparison between memory and storage.
- Computer memory help and support.
- Computer RAM diagram.
- Determining how much RAM is installed and available.
- What is the difference between RAM and ROM?
- Installing PC computer memory (RAM).