What Is Random Access Memory?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Random access memory (RAM) is a hardware component that provides memory storage in computing devices. Learn more about the various types of RAM and their role in optimizing your computing experience.

[Featued image] An IT support specialist is on their laptop researching about the different types of RAM.

RAM serves as the primary memory where your devices store data and application programs, for quick access by its processor. As opposed to hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs), RAM can read and write data faster.

An important characteristic of RAM is its volatility. That means RAM stores data while the computer is on but loses it when it’s turned off. Upon rebooting, the computer loads the operating system and other files back into the RAM from an HDD or SSD.

Read more: Information Technology (IT) Terms: A to Z Glossary

RAM placement inside a computer

It’s common to find RAM chips affixed to a computer’s motherboard. To overcome their individual storage limitations, manufacturers combine and solder multiple RAM chips together, creating a single integrated circuit (IC) board known as a module. Pins or connectors help attach multiple memory modules to the motherboard.

Most computers generally have at least two RAM modules, with the option to add more if necessary. These modules work with the computer's central processing unit (CPU) to ensure optimal performance.

The inner workings of a RAM

RAM functions as a set of boxes, with each box capable of storing either a 0 or a 1. These boxes, called cells, possess specific addresses determined by their row and column positions. Using embedded wires, the RAM controller sends row and column addresses to locate specific cells. Each row and column has a unique address line within the RAM array (collection of boxes). A separate data line delivers any fetched data. 

Types of RAM

RAM has two prevalent forms: dynamic random access memory (DRAM) and static random access memory (SRAM).

  • DRAM: This form requires continuous power and periodic refreshing to retain data. Gaming consoles and computer networking devices utilize DRAM.

  • SRAM: This form necessitates continuous power but doesn't require frequent refreshing. You’ll commonly find it in LCD screens, cameras, and printers. Notably, SRAM is faster than DRAM.

Did you know? RAM technologies are not easily replaceable or interchangeable. The distinct properties of different RAM modules prohibit them from being inserted into the same computer.

DRAM vs. SRAM: Which is better?

With its simpler structure and higher data storage capacity, DRAM is less expensive to manufacture than SRAM. This cost advantage makes DRAM more commonly used, serving as the main memory in most PCs. That said, SRAM finds its application in scenarios that call for quick access to data, such as wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.


Is RAM susceptible to malware?

RAM is typically resistant to malware infections since it clears its data upon system reboot. However, certain types of malware, such as point-of-sale (PoS) malware, singularly aim at infiltrating point-of-sale systems and card readers to capture payment data. This technique, known as RAM scraping, involves scanning the RAM of digital devices to extract sensitive information.

Get started 

Enhance your IT support skills with the Google IT Support Professional Certificate on Coursera. This beginner-level course, allows you to learn at your pace and helps you acquire essential skills for an entry-level IT job. The Professional Certificate covers topics like technical support fundamentals, operating systems, and system administration.  

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.