RAM Memory: What Is It And How Many Types Are There?

When we go to buy a new computer, we usually see some specifications such as processor, SSD, and RAM memory. We all know more or less what RAM is, but very few know its exact definition and operation.

In this guide, you will find all the information you need to learn a little more about this important component in our equipment. In addition, we will tell you how much RAM you need based on the performance you demand from your computer. And if you want more, here’s how to expand the RAM of a computer.

RAM saves the CPU from having to search the slower storage on the device, such as the SSD or hard drive. In fact, if you compare the first RAM memories that existed, they are still faster than current storage units.

What is RAM memory?

The main memory or RAM (Random Access Memory) is a random access memory. Being volatile, the information stored in it is erased when the power supply is interrupted, unlike ROM or flash memories, which do not lose information when the power supply is interrupted.

If you imagine the memory levels of a computer as a pyramid, the top would be the smallest and fastest memory of all, and the bottom would be the largest but slowest memory.

In that case, the pinnacle would be the CPU registers, which can barely store a few bits of information but are extremely fast. Below the logs would be the cache, which can hold from a few KB to a few MB but is somewhat slower than the logs.

Then would come the RAM, which can reach several gigabytes, but it is a little slower than the cache. And the next thing would be mass storage media or secondary memory, such as hard drives, which can store GB or TB, but access (write and read) is even slower than RAM.

RAM Slots On Motherboard
RAM memory Slots On the Motherboard

The objective of this memory, as I have already mentioned, is to serve as an intermediate memory between the secondary media and the CPU. When a software process is executed, it needs to send a series of data and instructions to the CPU to be executed. If the CPU were to access them on the hard drive, an enormous amount of time would be lost. That’s why they are loaded into (faster) RAM to speed up access.

In order for the software to think it has more memory than it actually does in RAM, the operating system creates a virtual memory space, a memory that is the sum of the capacity of RAM memory and also a portion of the hard drive. Windows call it virtual memory, and on UNIX-like systems, like Linux, it is called swap space, or SWAP.

In this way, the scheduler can take a process out of RAM to free up space and put it in this other memory, leaving room in RAM for another process with a higher priority. That is, there is a constant exchange between RAM and that other space according to the priority of the processes at all times.

Simply put, RAM is a high-speed component that stores all the information your device needs on a temporary basis. Accessing the data in RAM memory is almost instantaneous unlike access to hard drives, but the latter can store information until we decide to delete the data.

Any component has access to RAM

Data stored in RAM
Data stored in RAM memory

Data stored in RAM can be read from any component at almost the same speed as from the CPU. This is because there is a wired connection and there is no real latency.

But as we mentioned, RAM doesn’t store everything permanently. It is a volatile technology, that is, when power is lost, all data is erased. Which is perfect for handling all tasks at high speed.

RAM memory types

RAM is a general term and there are several types of memory. RAM generally refers to dynamic random access memory, or DRAMwhich is used in modern systems. There is also Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory, or SDRAM.

There are different RAM memories of various frequencies, but the most current is DDR4. Even so, we can still continue to find DDR3 and even DDR2. The numbers refer to the generation of RAM memory and each successive generation has higher bandwidths, better speeds, and physical changes, so they are not compatible with each other.

Regarding the types, throughout history there were several outstanding designs :

  • FPM-RAM: Fast Page Mode was a design that uses a kind of burst mode, that is, when the memory controller sends an address for access, it will send several consecutive addresses to save time when you want to access data stored in adjacent positions. This memory had access times of 70 or 60 ns and was very popular in Intel 486 or clones, as well as early Pentiums and the like.
  • EDO RAM: Data Output Dynamic was released in 1994, and it lowered access times to 40 or 30 ns. A marked improvement over the FPM. It was similar to FPM, but it also allowed timeouts to be eliminated using an output buffer.
  • BEDO RAM: the Burst Extended EDO was launched as an evolution of the previous one. Introduced in 1997, this memory used internal address generators and accessed more than one memory location each cycle. That improved performance by 50% over the ODE.
  • SDR SDRAM: it was released in 1993, and it was an improved variant of SDRAM that was used by most PCs of the time (Cyrix, AMD, Intel, IDT,…). Its acronym stands for Single Data Rate, and the improvement was in the way read and write accesses were processed, executing one read instruction and one write instruction for each clock cycle.
  • Rambus and XDR: This memory used its own modules called RIMM, and it used SDRAM-type memory called RDRAM and it had great performance due to its bandwidth. It was created by the Rambus company and supported by Intel chipsets for PC (Pentium 4), as well as being used on other platforms, such as some consoles, such as the Nintendo 64 or the Sony PlayStation 2. In addition, there was an evolution called XDR (eXtreme Data Rate) that competed with DDR2. Although in the end, due to the lower price of the DDR and the few differences in performance, it ended up prevailing.
  • DDR: an advance of the SDR was the Double Data Rate that would appear in 2000. It operates twice as fast as the SDR since for each clock cycle it can perform two reads and two writes at the same time. Currently, it has become the de facto standard, not only for the PC but also for servers, mobile devices, etc. In addition, there are several versions:
    • DDR2 – The second version maintains the same number of access operations per clock cycle, but can run at faster speeds. While DDR1 does it at 200 Mhz bus, it can go to 533 Mhz.
    • DDR3: the third revision has improvements in terms of speed (800 Mhz), capacity, and consumption.
    • DDR4: reaches speeds greater than 1600 Mhz, the supported capacity has also been improved, and the voltage (consumption) has been reduced.
    • DDR5: There is already a lot of talk about it, although DDR4 is still being used in most systems. This new step will also enable higher speeds, better capacities, better reliability, as well as two channels per DIMM simultaneously to increase bandwidth.
    • GDDR: in graphics cards, GDDR (Graphics DDR) memory is being used as VRAM, that is, as its own RAM that is dedicated to the GPU. It is nothing more than a DDR dedicated to graphics, and it also has versions: GDDR1, GDDR2, GDDR3, GDDR4, GDDR5, GDDR6, GDDR6X, etc.
    • HBM stands for High Bandwidth Memory, a high-bandwidth memory developed by SK Hynix and AMD, and now also by Samsung. It uses 3D packaging to stack multiple chips increasing capacity and bandwidth. You will also find versions (HBM, HBM2, HBM3,…), each one improved. In terms of its application, it has been used for graphics cards as an alternative to GDDR, but it is also being used in other applications, such as for CPU for HPC.

SRAM and DRAM: two forms of modern RAM memory

The two main forms of modern RAM are:

  1. SRAM ( Static Random Access Memory ), static RAM, static random access memory.
  2. DRAM ( Dynamic Random Access Memory ), dynamic RAM, dynamic random access memory.
    • Asynchronous DRAM ( Asynchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory ), is asynchronous dynamic random access memory.
      • FPM RAM ( Fast Page Mode RAM )
      • EDO RAM ( Extended Data Output RAM )
    • SDRAM ( Synchronous Dynamic Random-Access Memory )
      • Rambus :
        • RDRAM ( Rambus Dynamic Random Access Memory )
        • XDR DRAM ( eXtreme Data Rate Dynamic Random Access Memory )
        • XDR2 DRAM ( eXtreme Data Rate two Dynamic Random Access Memory )
      • SDR SDRAM ( Single Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic Random-Access Memory, Single Data Rate SDRAM)
      • DDR SDRAM ( Double Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic Random-Access Memory, Double Data Rate SDRAM)
      • DDR2 SDRAM ( Double Data Rate type two SDRAM, SDRAM double data rate type two)
      • DDR3 SDRAM ( Double Data Rate type three SDRAM, SDRAM of double data rate type three)
      • DDR4 SDRAM ( Double Data Rate type four SDRAM, type four double data rate SDRAM ).
      • DDR5 SDRAM ( Double Data Rate type five SDRAM, type five double data rate SDRAM ).
      • DDR6 SDRAM ( Double Data Rate type six SDRAM, type six double data rate SDRAM ).

RAM memory on the GPU

You can also find different types of VRAM or video RAM when looking up gaming specs. VRAM is used to give dedicated memory to a graphics card.

Most of today’s GPUs use GDDR6. But it is also possible to find graphics cards that use a different VRAM called HBM, HBM2, and HBM2e. This type of memory offers better performance, but is more expensive and requires more power.

RAM on the GPU
RAM memory on the GPU

How much RAM memory do I need?

The amount of RAM memory depends a lot on the workload you put on your PC. For an average job, 8 GB could be enough, but if you like video games you might need 16 GB, and for the most demanding, 32 GB of RAM would suffice. It is a characteristic of gaming laptops.

On the other hand, if you do high-quality video production, you might need 32GB of RAM memory at least. A fact that we can find among the computers and configurations for video editing. This is not a problem as most motherboards have 4 RAM slots.

Also, read about How To Build Your Own Computer?

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Abram left his e-business studies to devote himself to his entrepreneurial projects. In 2017, he created the company Inbound Media and wrote articles about high-tech products for his Chromebookeur site. In 2019, Chromebookeur was renamed Macbound and became a general purchasing advice site. Today, Abram manages the development and growth of Macbound, surrounded by a young and talented team.

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