Computer Memory Article Feature

Types of Computer Memory

How does a Computer work?

Did you ever think about how a computer works? As we know, Computers are machines built with different materials. But how does it work? does it have a memory similar to humans? And If not, how does it function and how does it store and process data?

Well, just as we have a memory to remember things we see and do, a computer also uses memory to store and process data and instructions fed into it. Unlike humans, computer memory is very stable and precise and capable of processing complex details within a short time. In this article, we will explore in detail about computer memory and how data is manipulated.

Data Processing cycle

Generally, computers follow the Input > Process > Output cycle. Computers accept Input, process it, and produce an output as a result. The following shows an overview of the Data Processing Cycle.

Data Processing Cycle
Data Processing cycle

Input – may be data or instructions
Processing – input is then processed or manipulated into meaningful information
Output – the results are then displayed through an output device using a human-readable form.

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What are computer memory and its types?

What are binary digits on a computer?

Since computers are electronic machines, it can only understand electricity that flows through it using two states, they are ON (Represented by 1) and OFF (Represented by 0). Similarly, the Binary language consists of two digits; 0 (Zero) and 1 (One). These Binary Digits are called bits.

Why does a computer only use binary data?

The data stored in a computer memory is in the form of bits or binary digits. This is because the computer is an electronic machine. Therefore computer memory is measureable in bits.

Units of storage in Computers

The computer memory is measured using bits. This also can be measured in bytes. A byte is a collection of 8 bits.

The following table shows the units of measuring in detail.

Types of Computer Memory

There are two types of Memory.

  • Primary Memory
  • Secondary Memory
The following table shows a simple comparison to understand both easily.

The Primary Memory types

Random Access Memory (RAM)

The data and instructions can be written onto and read from RAM. Therefore RAM is known as the read/write memory.

When a computer is switched ON, the Operating system is loaded into RAM. When you start working on any application, it is loaded into RAM and we actually working on this copy.

RAM is also called Volatile Memory. It means It will retain data as long as the electricity is available (or the computer is ON).

The size of the RAM of any Computer affects its processing capability. That means, if the RAM is high it can load more applications and capable of processing them in the memory. It also affects the multi-tasking capabilities (We will discuss multi-tasking in a separate article).

Read-Only Memory (ROM)

ROM is, on the other hand, a type of permanent memory. The Computer Memory in ROM is pre-recorded and it cannot be erased (There are ways to erase this memory but not by you and me). Therefore, it is called a non-volatile memory as it retains in Memory even after the electricity is cut-off.

The ROM is used to store a special program called the BIOS (Basic Input Output System). The BIOS software in the ROM is used to load the Operating system. Without ROM, we cannot load the Operating system, and therefore, we cannot do any work on the computer.

Read Only Memory
The first EPROM, an Intel 1702, with the die and wire bonds clearly visible through the erase window.

Erasable programmable read-only memory (EPROM), electrically erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM) and flash memory can be erased and re-programmed.

The Secondary Memory Types

The Secondary memory is also called auxiliary Memory, External Memory or Backup Memory. The Primary Memory has a limited storage capacity and not capable of storing data permanantly. This is the reason why you need to use a Secondary Memory or storage devices.

Hard Disk (HD)

The Hard disk is a primary type of non-volatile memory used to store your data on a computer. It can store large amounts of data and can reside inside the computer or additionally outside as well (External Hard disk).

Hard Disk
Two Seagate Barracuda drives, from 2003 and 2009 - respectively 160GB and 1TB. As of 2020 Seagate offers capacities up to 16TB

Compact Disc (CD)

The CD is another form of non-volatile memory once widely used. It is portable and cheaper to use. Most of the software and games are preloaded into CDs due to its portability and durability.

There are two types of CDs;

  • CD-R – The “R” stands for Recordable. As its name implies, we can write data into these CDs. Once done, we cannot remove these data.
  • CD-RW – The “RW” stands for Re-writable. As its name implies, we can re-write data into these CDs multiple times.
Compact Disc
700 MiB CD-R next to a mechanical pencil for scale

There are devices called CD Writer which can be installed into your computer to write data into a CD. CDs have now become obsolete due to the invention of DVDs.

Digital Versatile Disc (DVD)

A DVD is very similar to its look but it is capable of storing six times of data stored in a CD. In addition, a DVD can be single-sided or double-sided increasing the capacity further. DVDs also have recordable and re-writeable types.

Sony Rewritable DVD

Blu-ray Disc

The name Blu-ray is derived from the blue-violet laser that used to read and write data. The Blu-ray disc is capable of storing 25GB data, that is five times the DVD is supported. Mainly used to store high-quality video and games which requires high capacity storage.

Front of an experimental 200 GB rewritable Blu-ray Disc

Flash Drive

A Flash drive is also generally called a Pen Drive, USB Drive, etc. This can be connected to the USB (Universal Serial Bus) port of the computer. This is similar to a Hard disk but portable and very smaller in size and less expensive. Once Flash drives were embedded into everyday tools such as key tags, pens, etc, and was popular among users.

Assortment of flash drives

Memory Card

A Memory Card is very smaller in size and used to store data in various electronic devices such as Digital cameras, smartphones, mp3 players, and many portable devices.

Miniaturization is evident in memory card creation; over time, the physical card sizes grow smaller.

Obsolete popular Secondary storage devices

They were popular devices called Floppy Disks once widely used in every computer. They were the first portable secondary memory commercially successful. They came in three different sizes, 8-inch, 5 14-inch, and 3 12-inch floppy disks.

8-inch, 5 1⁄4-inch, and 3 1⁄2-inch floppy disks

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Summary of Computer Memory

We hope this article helped you learn about the history of computer memory and memory types.

Let’s recap the details.

  • The computer memory is used to store and process data.
  • Computers can understand only binary languages.i.e. 1s (ON) and 0s (OFF).
  • There are various units of measures to measure memory (Bits, Bytes, KiloBytes, MegaBytes, Giga Bytes, Terra Bytes, Peta Bytes, Exa Bytes, Zetta Bytes, Yotta Bytes, Bronto Bytes).
  • There are two types of Computer Memory (Primary Memory & Secondary Memory).
  • The Primary Memory can be further divided into Random-access Memory (RAM) and Read-Only Memory (ROM).
  • The Secondary Memory can be further divided into Hard disk (HD), compact disc (CD), Digital Versatile Disc (DVD), Blu-ray Disc, Flash Drive, External Memory Cards.

Read Next: Types of Computer Hardware

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