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There’s a RAM in my PC

USFWS Mountain-Prairie on Flickr

If you’ve ever seen the inside of a computer before, you’ve very likely noticed that there absolutely no sheep stuffed in there. But if that’s true, why are people always talking about “ram” in their PC?

When we mention rams in computing, we don’t mean our fluffy friends. It’s actually an acronym that stands for Random Access Memory, and it’s what helps our PCs run as fast as they do.

If you look inside of a PC, you’ll likely see either two or four long, thin slots. Some or all of them will have a long chip-like thing in it; it looks sort of like a flat, green chocolate bar. That’s the RAM, and it’s a lot less fluffy than its animal counterpart.

Our computers need RAM because it acts as a workbench from which the PC can do things. When you want to load up a program, your PC takes data from your hard drive or solid state drive, then puts it on the RAM so you can use it.

The reason your PC does this is because RAM is quick–really quick. Your PC can read and write data on its RAM much faster than from a disk drive. As such, when you use your PC, every program and service is running on your RAM.

So if RAM is so great, why don’t we just get rid of hard disk drives and solid state drives and just use RAM instead? Unfortunately, RAM is what really smart people call “volatile memory.” This kind of memory forgets everything that’s stored on it when no electricity passes through it.

This means that, if you did have a PC that only had RAM, it would immediately forget everything the moment you turned it off–not ideal! That’s why our computers use a combination of both hard disk/solid state drives and RAM. The RAM handles all the stuff you’re doing right now, and does it quickly and efficiently. Meanwhile, the drive stores all the stuff you want to save after you turn the PC off.

As such, your computer is always passing data back and forth from the disk to the RAM. That’s why you lose all your progress in your game or programs when your PC turns off before you can save; the RAM didn’t have time to transfer your data to the storage drive and lost all your data once it lost power.

At the same time, because the storage drives are slower than RAM, it takes some time to load the data onto the RAM. If you’ve ever gotten impatient at a video game’s long loading times, it’s because it’s taking a while to grab all the stuff it needs from your storage drive and put it into the RAM.

Sometimes, if you stuff too much data onto your RAM, it’ll offload some of it back onto the storage drive in a file called the “pagefile.” When this happens, your PC slows down as it has to transfer data back and forth from the pagefile. That’s why adding more RAM can speed up a PC, by giving it more room to handle your programs and avoiding the pagefile.

So, the next time you use a computer program, be sure to give thanks to the little sticks of RAM that help you get it running in the first place. It may not be perfect, but it’s a lot better at running software than a fluffy sheep!

Learn More

What is RAM and What Does It Do?


What Goes on Behind the Loading Screen


What is RAM


ram vs. storage


Difference between RAM and ROM


RAM for gamers


Random Access Memory


Computer memory types