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All about Memory – RAM, Hard Drives, and SSD

Memory is one of the most important components of any computer system, however many people don’t know that there are multiple types of memory that perform different tasks. Today we’re going to take a look at the basic types of memory, what they do, and why they are all so important to your computing experience.

What is RAM?

 

1GB of DDR3 RAM running at 1333Mhz
1GB of DDR3 RAM running at 1333Mhz

RAM – or Random Access Memory (also called Physical Memory), is a type of digital storage on your computer that is readily and easily accessible to your processor by means of the processor’s cache. RAM, by and large, increases the performance of your computer by taking the burden of quick data retrieval off of your hard drive and putting into a much faster set of memory blocks capable of reaching over 2000 Mhz (A standard Hard Disk Drive, by comparison, reaches about 100Mhz – making it the slowest component on most computer setups).

A standard Hard Drive with the cover off.
A typical Hard Disk Drive showing the storage platters and read/write head inside. The platters spin at 7200RPM on most HDDs, which means they are very loud and prone to mechanical failure.

When your computer boots up one of the many processes performed by the system is all of the important data for running your computer is loaded into the RAM from the Hard Drive, every time you open a new application or browser window – or anything really, the program files are loaded from the hard drive, to the processor, to the cache, then to the RAM so that those files can be accessed more quickly while you work within the program.  The more RAM you have, generally, the more programs you can have open at any given time without experiencing slowness. My desktop computer for OPC currently has 16GB of RAM, but I’ll probably upgrade to 32GB in the near future.  OPC doesn’t build any custom computers today with less than 8GB (Some manufacturers are still using as little as 4GB.)

RAM vs. Hard Drives

A simple diagram of how a PC works, showing the movement of information from the Hard Drive or other storage, to CPU, then into Memory

So, you might be wondering – if RAM is so fast, why don’t we just use huge amounts of RAM to replace our hard drives?  There are two answers for this:

1: Cost: RAM costs roughly $10 per GB, while your average 3TB (Terabyte, 3000 GB) hard drive is about $.04 per GB.  When you have lots to store, you don’t generally want to pay an arm and a leg to store it!

2: Volatility: RAM is considered volatile memory – meaning that it only holds data while your computer is powered on and working properly. Hard Drive memory is stored in a series of magnetic 1’s and 0’s on a platter, permanently (unless, of course, your hard drive fails). You can unplug a hard drive from your computer and 10 years later, plug it back in and all of your data will still be there. RAM cannot do this, so it isn’t ideal for storage.

There are some cases where RAM is actually used in the same way that a hard drive is used called a RAMdrive – this sort of configuration is usually reserved for high end servers that stay on all the time – any time the server is going to be turned off the RAMdrive is saved to a hard drive so that it can be loaded back into the RAMdrive upon reboot – however, if the server shuts down unexpectedly (which shouldn’t happen often under proper configuration) data can be lost. RAMdrives are incredibly fast, but – obviously, incredibly expensive.

The New Kid On The Block – The SSD

A Samsung 830 SSD delivers impressive performance, increased battery life in laptops, and a long lasting storage volume for important data.
A Samsung 830 SSD delivers impressive performance, increased battery life in laptops, and a long lasting storage volume for important data.

For many years there were only two major players in the computer memory game, not to mention the trusty old flash drive we’ve all used to save and transport files between two points. These days, however, a new (kinda new) technology has really started to become popular on the market – called the SSD (Solid State Drive).  The SSD relies on Flash memory and a Flash Controller chip, which isn’t volatile like RAM, but is between 5x and 10x faster at reading and writing than the standard hard drive.

Until recently SSDs were prohibitively expensive, but over the last few years they have dropped in price by nearly 1000% – a typical 120GB SSD drive now costs only $80, less than $1 per GB.  Most of the machines OPC builds come with SSDs and regular HDDs standard in order to maximize both performance and storage capacity. Typically the Operating System and the most task intensive programs (MS Office, Photoshop, Games, etc) are installed on the SSD so that they can start up and run faster – while pictures, videos, and programs that are used less frequently are installed on the HDD.  A modern computer with an SSD as it’s main operating drive can boot up in 20 seconds or less, vs over a minute for some machines with only HDD. Most programs launch in 3 seconds or less!

 

Upgrading your memory

Upgrading memory, of all types, is probably the most cost affective way to upgrade your outdated computer and squeeze a few more useful years out of it.  Oxley Performance Computers specializes in high end hardware upgrades using the best components available, installed properly – then optimized within your Operating System for the best performance.

Whether you want to add a few GB of RAM to your current machine, or change out your dusty old mechanical hard drive for a blazing fast SSD – OPC has you covered – and all of our work is covered by a labor warranty that can’t be beat. Contact us for a quote on available upgrades for your computer today – so we can breath new life into your machine!

 

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