For a computer to provide the various capabilities and uses that we rely on in our day-to-day lives, they require different forms of memory. Regarding electronic applications, memory refers to any device that may store data and information for a computer system to use. Computer memory also ranges in its form and application, as memory and data storage may be volatile or non-volatile in its operation and use. Due to the immense importance that computers now serve in modern societies, having a general understanding of the common types of computer memory devices that are used can be useful for anyone operating or owning such systems.
As stated beforehand, computer memory may come in various forms, those often being either volatile or non-volatile devices. With volatile memory, any data that is stored on a device requires power to be maintained. Oftentimes, these devices come in the form of semiconductor pieces such as Random Access Memory (RAM). Through the use of RAM, computers can read and change data as needed in any order. As they are not constrained in their location of reading and writing, the speeds at which such computer memory devices can operate at are much higher than direct-access data storage types. As a result, Random Access Memory is used to load and switch between applications, browse the internet, access computing resources, and much more. Furthermore, many operating systems may also utilize RAM in order to expedite the launch process during a system startup.
Dynamic Random Access Memory, or DRAM, is a specific type of RAM device that is often used as the main form of computer memory. With an integrated circuit assembly featuring a transistor and a capacitor, data may be stored in the capacitor in the form of bits. During standard operations, transistors may leak over time and cause capacitors to discharge. As a result, stored data can slowly be lost over time. To prevent such issues, DRAM is consistently refreshed with a new electronic charge every few milliseconds. Static Random Access Memory, or SRAM, is another type of RAM device that is formed from four to six transistors. As compared to Dynamic Random Access Memory, SRAM is capable of retaining all of its data without the need of refreshing as long as power is being provided to the system. Due to this method of operation, SRAM devices are capable of performing their operations at much quicker speeds, albeit often running at higher market prices. Because of this, DRAM remains the most common form of computer memory for a wide variety of operations.
While volatile computer memory devices are useful for basic application operations and functionality, non-volatile computer memory is paramount for prolonged data storage and retrieval. Unlike volatile devices that lose all stored data upon the loss of power, non-volatile memory is specifically designed for retention. Non-volatile memory devices can come in many shapes and forms depending on the need and application, and examples include read-only memory, flash memory, hard disk drives, solid state drives, and much more.
Read-only memory (ROM) is a type of memory that cannot be modified electronically once it has been manufactured. As such, it can be useful as a form of firmware storage when there is no need for long-term changes to data. Generally, read-only memory is used for the distribution of digital entertainment such as video games, storage of commercial computer software, and more. In some cases, read-only memory may be erasable for rewriting data, and such hardware often comes in the form of electrically erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM) and erasable programmable read-only memory (EPROM) devices. While such computer memory types are rewritable, they may require special equipment and can be finite in the amount of times they can be erased.
Flash Memory is another common form of non-volatile computer memory, and such devices allow for reading and writing data and information for various systems. Typically, flash memory comes in the form of NOR flash and NAND flash, both being named after the logic gates that they contain. With NAND-type flash memory, data can be erased as needed and information is written and read in the form of blocks. On the other hand, NOR-type flash memory only allows for a single machine word to be written or read at a time. Across most devices, NAND flash often comes in the form of memory cards, USB flash drives, and solid-state drives that may be used for computers, smart phones, medical electronics, and much more. While flash memory is not as fast as RAM and ROM devices, their access speeds tend to be very quick as compared to other non-volatile computer memory types.
As another very common device for storing computer data, hard disk drives (HDDs) are electromechanical devices that handle and store data through the use of magnets. Within the HDD assembly, rapidly rotating platters are coated with magnetic materials, and an actuator arm is used to read or write data on the platter surfaces. First introduced in 1956, HDDs have quickly become the standard for reading and writing large amounts of data for everyday use. As technology has continued to advance, the price of such hardware has steadily dropped while storage capacities have increased.
In more recent years, solid-state drives (SSDs) have begun to supersede the capabilities of HDDs due to their more rapid speeds at which they can read and write data. As compared to an HDD, SSDs utilize integrated circuit assemblies and flash memory to serve as a secondary storage device. While their speeds are often much quicker as compared to HDDs, their technological infancy often puts them at much higher prices for similar storage capacities.
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