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Introduction to RAM

Random access memory (RAM) is the best known form of computer memory. RAM is considered "random access" because you can access any memory cell directly if you know the row and column that intersect at that cell. One of the most common forms of RAM is in the form of DRAM, or Dynamic RAM, chips.

Dynamic RAM chips are made up of an integrated circuit (IC), which in turn is made of millions of extremely tiny transistors and capacitors. Each capacitor holds a bit of information, represented as a 0 (off) or 1 (on). The transistor then acts as a switch, which in turns allows the control circuitry on the chip to read or "write" to the capacitor.

Other forms of RAM exist, such as in video cards and some sound cards. These implementations of RAM are typically used for the specific functions of these cards, such as rendering graphics in games or processing music from a CD.

How much do I need?

It's been said that you can never have enough money, and the same holds true for RAM, especially if you do a lot of graphics-intensive work or gaming. Next to the CPU itself, RAM is the most important factor in computer performance. If you don't have enough, adding RAM can make more of a difference than getting a new CPU!

If your system responds slowly or accesses the hard drive constantly, then you need to add more RAM before a failure of the hard disk occurs. If you are running Windows XP, Microsoft recommends 256MB as the minimum RAM requirement. At 64MB, you may experience frequent application problems. For optimal performance with standard desktop applications, 256MB is recommended. Windows NT/2000 requires at least 64 MB, and it will take everything you can throw at it, so you'll probably want 128 MB or more.

Some implementations of Linux work happily on a system with only 4 MB of RAM. For most other uses of Linux, especially if you plan to add X-Windows or do much serious work, you'll probably want 64 - 256 MB. Mac OS X systems should have a minimum of 128 MB, or for optimal performance, 512 MB.

The amount of RAM listed for each system above is estimated for normal usage -- accessing the Internet, word processing, standard home/office applications and light entertainment. If you do computer-aided design (CAD), 3-D modeling/animation or heavy data processing, or if you are a serious gamer, then you will most certainly require more RAM.

Content coutesy of HowStuffWorks and The Linux FAQ.

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