When I mentioned to a friend that I just purchased a new Windows 10 Pro laptop, he asked how much memory did it have. I replied that it had 16GB RAM. When he retorted in shock that 16GB RAM was an awfully small hard drive, it quickly became clear that like a lot of folks he was confused between the different types of memory – the “live” Random-Access-Memory which allows data to be read or written versus the direct-access data storage such as hard disks, CDs and USB flash drives.
I thought it would be a good idea to set the memory matter straight, so I wrote this backgrounder to explain the different types of memory, their use, and some of the built-in Windows features created for each of them. Unless otherwise noted, all details explained apply to all versions of Windows from Windows 7 through Windows 10.
Remembering memory types won’t make you a certified geek but hopefully it will clear up the confusion of the legion of different memory types and it will help you understand the pile of sales jargon thrown at you when purchasing a new computer.
Random access memory (RAM) is the workhorse of a computer, allowing application data to be read and written. The memory chips are located on the PC’s motherboard. There are actually two types of RAM. Dynamic random access memory or DRAM is volatile which basically means it is temporary memory and is lost when the PC is powered off. When in use it requires constant refreshing – hey , it is random so the memory controller has to keep track of where each memory bit is located on the silicon chip.
Static RAM (SRAM) like its name implies stays in one place so it is a lot faster because it needs no refreshing every millisecond like DRAM requires. Accordingly it is most often used in cache memory. DRAM has gotten way less expensive which is why computer companies favor it over SRAM. Obviously the more DRAM your computer has the quicker it can process applications and the more applications can be open simultaneously.