AVG Signal Blog Performance Hardware What Is RAM and What Does It Do?

What is RAM?

RAM stands for random access memory and is the short-term storage component (or memory) of a computer. It holds all the data you’re currently using, from the website you’re looking at to the movement of the mouse from one side of the screen to the other.

This article contains:

    Click on a link to load a new website and a series of capacitors in the RAM light up or turn off, translating to the page you see. This is how RAM temporarily stores information so that it can be found and accessed again quickly. That’s much better than waiting for the information to be pulled up from a hard drive (SSD or HDD).

    Scratching your head over this? Let’s take a closer look at what’s actually happening under the hood. Then you might have an answer when your friend asks: What does RAM stand for?

    What does RAM do?

    RAM holds all the data you’re actively working with, and you can access this data in any order — it’s random access not sequential access. RAM is directly connected to your computer’s motherboard, allowing for the fastest speeds possible. The more RAM you have, the better your computer will perform.

    The hundreds of processes you execute whenever you do anything on your computer — type a sentence, save a file, open a tab, jump in a video game — that's the work of RAM. Unlike HDDs, random access memory is designed to work with only small bits of data at a time.

    Your operating system is one of the things taking up your RAM's capacity, and it might be getting dragged down by unused or junk files. Some background processes are working all the time, even when they don’t need to be. 

    Thankfully, AVG TuneUp features a built-in Sleep Mode, which disables unneeded background processes and switches programs back on at a moment’s notice, freeing up RAM. Try it today to free up space and get more room for what you really need.

    Why is RAM important?

    The interconnectedness of RAM lets it handle data as fast as possible. “Random access” means you can get to any spot in the RAM just as quickly as you can get to any other spot. RAM sits on top of the processor, which is why your processor can do tasks seemingly instantaneously. 

    RAM is what you use to do anything on your computer. Okay, you can browse through the contents of your hard drive and look through folders and files, but opening any of those files means pulling out a copy and placing it onto the RAM. Only there can data be read and written in nanoseconds.

    Sticks of RAM sitting in their slots on a computer motherboardInserting RAM sticks into their slots on a computer’s motherboard.

    As you edit a Microsoft Word file, you might think you're working deep inside the folders of your hard drive. But the hard drive is quite far from your workstation, as far as computing is concerned. 

    You could ask a person to read a paragraph to you over the phone, for example — this is what asking the hard drive would be like — or you could read the same paragraph much more quickly and easily with your own eyes. RAM puts the information you need right in front of your processor.

    Have you ever had so many programs opened at once that your computer slows to a crawl? That’s how computers would perform all the time if they had to rely solely on their hard drives, because that’s precisely what they’re doing when memory becomes overloaded. Stress-testing your CPU can give you an idea of how well your computer handles high workloads.

    What if you tried to boot up your computer without RAM? Just about any computer would give you an error message, because there would be no point in running it.

    Different types of RAM

    You might be wondering what different types of RAM are available and how they relate to your needs. Let's take a look at some acronyms so you have a better sense of what you're working with. 

    DRAM, or dynamic RAM, is the main type of RAM memory we're talking about. Data is present on DRAM as electrical charges held inside very leaky capacitors. DRAM needs to stay connected to electricity so the capacitors can be refreshed over and over again. When the power is cut, the electrical charges dissipate and the RAM is emptied of data. 

    All of the above is also true for SDRAM, synchronous dynamic RAM, but SDRAM is synced to the system clock. Up to this point, the memory wasn’t working in sync with the processor’s actions — it was going slower. Syncing the memory to the system clock brings memory up to speed.

    You can picture the regular pulse of the system clock as a sine wave. At each peak of the wave, the SDRAM transmits data. But what about the sine wave’s valleys?

    Enter DDR (double data rate). This is a new technology that lets data be sent whenever the “lower” part of the pulse (or sine wave) goes through. With DDR, data is sent twice during each clock cycle, so you get speeds that are twice as fast. 

    DDR2 allows for even more data to be sent during these two “delivery” periods, and this bandwidth increases with each new generation of DDR. Most of our computers are currently working with DDR4

    An added benefit of later DDR generations is that they consume less power due to their lower voltage requirements.

    What kind of RAM is in my computer?

    You're probably using DDR4 RAM, since that’s what most computers have these days. That stick of RAM is made up of tiny little capacitors constantly being filled and refilled with electricity so they can remember their single bit of data. You better copy or save all that data to your HDD before that flow of electricity stops!


    Let's look at SRAM, or static random access memory. This type of RAM still needs constant power, but the capacitors inside don't need to be continually recharged. DRAM is a much more practical application, but its static counterpart is used for cache memory (small files that are accessed frequently). This isn't the type of RAM you want if you're trying to upgrade your memory, so don't worry too much about it.


    Video RAM is a space where all your immediate data sits as you work with it. So VRAM is just like RAM, except that it sits on your graphics card and specializes in image data. More VRAM means more graphics can be loaded at one time, which is a blessing for content editors and those looking to speed up their gaming PCs.

    With more VRAM, the graphics of your games will render sharply.Your gaming graphics will be nice and crisp with more VRAM.

    What is the difference between RAM, ROM, and general storage?

    RAM is a computer’s short-term memory, ROM is the unique set of instructions a computer needs in order to turn on, and general storage is where information is stored in bulk.

    Since their acronyms are so similar, you may confuse the two terms or lump them together and ask: What is RAM and ROM? In reality, they’re two totally different types of memory. 

    ROM, or read-only memory, is data located directly on the motherboard that tells a computer how to work. It's the first thing your computer accesses when it's turned on, and it’s your computer’s most essential data, because nothing else is accessible or usable without it. 

    ROM cannot be changed — that’s why it’s called “read only.” By contrast, RAM is where data is constantly being changed.

    With that out of the way, let's look at how RAM differs from stored data

    System storage is usually in a non-volatile form, meaning it won't lose data when power is cut. These are your HDDs and your SSDs — those folders where all of your documents sit. When you save a file, you’re sending a copy of it from your RAM to your hard disk drive.

    Volatile memory like RAM is always connected to power. This is so that each memory cell’s electrical charge can be refilled as necessary. It's like a leaky bucket, and that leakiness is actually why RAM works as fast as it does. With power constantly coming in, RAM doesn’t need to have the most robust construction, making data more quickly accessible

    As mentioned above, this quicker accessibility is ideal for working directly with data. What part does RAM storage play? RAM storage determines how many programs and files can be open at the same time. We spend most of our computer time multitasking, and we need the computer to respond quickly and avoid slowdowns or even 100% disk usage in Windows 10. That's why it's essential to have enough RAM.

    How much RAM do I need?

    The amount of RAM you need depends on what you do with your machine. It's not about how powerful your computer is as an absolute. It's about what you're using it for. Most personal and work computers using Word and Excel will perform well with 8 GB of system memory.

    A screenshot of Windows Task Manager with memory column highlighted.You can use the Task Manager to see if your RAM is being overloaded.

    You can check your RAM memory on your desktop or laptop computer easily, and it probably has between 4 and 8 GB. That is, unless it's really old!

    Of course, you’re probably wondering: Shouldn't I get 16GB of RAM if I can afford it? The more the better, right? No, not necessarily.

    RAM is deeply connected to your computer. It's got literally 240 pins jacked directly into the motherboard, and It's already going as fast as it can go. The problem arises when your activities exceed your RAM’s capacity and it has to ask the hard drive to pick up the slack. 

    If you've ever had a computer slow down because of too many tabs open in Chrome or because you’re streaming shows or movies while also gaming, you know what it feels like to have your hard drive called on to do your RAM's job.

    The truth is that your RAM will always function at top speed unless and until you ask too much of it. With 8 GB of RAM you can have hundreds of Chrome tabs open and you won't reach this point. Adding more RAM would just be a waste of money.

    Another waste of money is not being able to use your RAM properly because it’s bogged down by unnecessary junk and other bloatware. Instead of wasting space on a background program that helps iTunes start up a few seconds more quickly, you should clear out space on your RAM to make room for what you actually need. 

    Besides, when was the last time you used iTunes anyway? Try AVG TuneUp for free today and clear out the hundreds of little things — background processes, junk files, bloatware — cluttering your memory and clogging up your computer.

    Content editors

    If you work with Photoshop or Final Cut Pro, you should consider 32 GB if you want a smooth editing experience. Multimedia files can be huge. The next step down, 16 GB, is usable, but you'll have very little wiggle room. 

    As a content editor, chances are you'll have a few other programs open at the same time, like a Chrome window showing an email related to your work. The more RAM you have, the more programs you can run at once.


    Gamers will want to opt for 16 GB of RAM. A game like Grand Theft Auto V is huge, but it’s also optimized, and you probably won't be running any memory-hogging programs in the background while playing. 

    It's when you're working with many large files of raw data simultaneously that you need more than 16 GB of RAM. But since gaming PCs are so customizable, you can always upgrade your PC’s RAM if necessary.

    When to update your RAM

    You may have an old Macbook that only needs a memory upgrade to work just fine. You'll have to check up on the processor and hard drive situation, but if they aren't outdated or worn out, a new stick of RAM might be enough to revive that bad boy. The same is true for upgrading the RAM of your PC, too. Motherboards come with extra slots for additional RAM, which makes it easy to power up a struggling computer.

    Android phones

    Android phones need more RAM than other smartphones, but be wary of shelling out for too much. Androids work just fine with 4 GB.

    How to speed up your devices without upgrading RAM

    Adding more random access memory costs money. And if your computer doesn’t have enough space to do what you need it to do, the first solution is simple: clear up more space!

    AVG TuneUp automatically deletes junk files, disables unneeded software, and performs a whole range of other efficiency-boosting tasks to keep your device in tip-top shape. 

    One of the most useful features of AVG TuneUp is Sleep Mode, which disables all of the unnecessary background junk that you never use. It’s a much easier solution than disabling a whole bunch of programs one at a time. And Sleep Mode will also kickstart any hibernating programs back into action whenever they’re needed. 

    If your computer has slowed to a crawl, it’s likely due to all the unnecessary files that you can’t see and that continue to pile up. Get AVG TuneUp today to keep your trash in check and make sure your RAM stays sharp.

    Clean up your RAM for faster performance with AVG Cleaner for Android

    Free install

    Secure your iPhone against threats with AVG Mobile Security

    Free install