Random Access Memory (RAM) is a type of computer memory that is used to store the data and code a machine is currently using.
If it didn't exist, it would be much slower to run any device reliant on short-term memory than it is. In fact, very little would ever get done.
RAM is a completely different type of memory compared to direct access memory such as hard drives or SSDs because it can be read and written to at the same time; the data is constantly changing.
Another major difference between the two is that RAM is completely wiped when power is removed. For example, when you switch off your computer, any information stored temporarily on the memory is erased so when you start up your smartphone, PC, tablet or any other computing device, it's completely clear and will only start processing the actions it needs to do at that time.
If this happened to direct access memory where all your permanent data is stored, it would be pretty worrying.
However, RAM modules are being developed that could retain some of the information, making it faster to start up. Computers if something goes wrong with it and you need to restart, for example.
The history of RAM
Although modern computers are completely different to those in existence half a decade ago, RAM was still present in many of the first computers, although up until the 1970s, the most commonly used method was magnetic core memory - very different to the embedded circuitry RAM we know of today.
Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) wasn't introduced until the 1970s (although as a concept, it was announced in 1968) and allowed data to be stored in transistors that were refreshed every few milliseconds, which remains to be used today.
How RAM works
RAM understands what parts of the computer or operating system is needed now and what it's likely to need in future, constantly writing and reading processes to get things done fast.
Because it's always prepared and it doesn't need to trawl through the capacious hard drive to find what it needs, it means your computer can switch between tasks seamlessly without you noticing any latency.
Types of RAM
Most devices in existence today use either static RAM (SRAM) or DRAM. SRAM tends to work faster and use less power because data is stored in a six-transistor memory cell rather than relying on the transistor and capacitor pair to work together to determine what's stored.
Both types of RAM are used in computers and computing devices, but as SRAM is more expensive to produce, DRAM is the most commonly used memory chip.architecture in commercial devices.
The most common types of RAM present in computers is DDR4, though older systems may use DDR2 or DDR3. DDR4 is unsurprisingly faster than its older counterparts and some design changes, so you won't be able to replace your retro DDR3 with DDR4, for example.
The future of RAM
As previously explained, some manufacturers are developing RAM that could store data for longer and doesn't require the use of power to store data.
Researchers in China have also developed a new type of memory that combines elements of both RAM and ROM that does remember tasks - for as long as you specify.
Intel's Optane drives combine the volatility of SSDs with the read/write speed of RAM, potential replacing the need for RAM and ROM at some point in the future.
Scientists are also working on increasing the capacity of RAM modules, allowing them. To store more information and essentially, running more tasks at the same time
Next-generation DDR5 RAM is also in development, offering double the read/write speeds compared to the current DDR4.