RAM (Random Access Memory)

Another component that is commonly known, but also widely misunderstood is RAM, or Random Access Memory. RAM in desktop computers are long, flat electronic chips, like those pictured above. Laptops also have similar RAM modules, however those are significantly shorter in length.

The RAM in your computer acts like a sort of workbench. When you run a program, look at a photograph, work on a letter, surf the internet etc, all the relevant information is loaded from your hard drive into your RAM, ready for your computer to use. Much like putting the necessary tools and materials on a work bench before constructing something from them. RAM is your bench.

RAM is fairly easy to locate inside a desktop system, due to its obvious and unique shape and size. RAM ports can be found as two or four parallel rails on the motherboard, with a groove running up the centre of each, and a plastic clip at each end. In the image above, there are 4 RAM rails (two blue and two black), in the top section of the motherboard.

RAM comes in a few different types as it has evolved over the few years of computer history. Presently, some of the types you may come across are SD, DDR, DDR2 and DDR3 (original weren't they).

SD is a very old and slow form of RAM now. We're talking computer dinosaurs here. If your computer still uses this type of RAM, it's time to update and get a new one. Anything that still uses SD RAM is going to struggle severely with any modern day software on the market

As you can see in the image above, the structure of a RAM module is fairly simple. There is a circuit board, in this case green, with black memory modules down the side and a row of flat connection pins down a single edge. There are also notches at each end of the chip, where clips from the motherboard fasten the RAM in place.

The dead give-away to identifying SD RAM modules are the two slots in the edge with the pins. SD RAM have two slots, while all the DDR types have only one.

The second type of RAM you may come across is known as DDR and is pictured above. Although this is being phased out now, it is still quite common in systems that are a few years old. Identifying DDR from DDR2 is not quite as simple as they both have only the one slot. DDR RAM however, will typically have memory modules spanning most of the width of the circuit board chip, and if you can find an operational speed printed on it, then it will generally be either 333Mhz (Megahertz) or 400Mhz.

DDR2 RAM (pictured above) is usually distinguishable from DDR RAM by the size of the black memory modules on the outer surface of the chip. On DDR2 RAM, the modules dont span quite as much of the width of the chip as what they do on DDR RAM. Although the slot position is also a little different between the two, it can be difficult to distinguish which is which based on this alone.

DDR2 RAM operates in a different manner to the previous DDR version, which gets quite technical, but the bottom line is that it is significantly faster. This type of RAM can range anywhere in speed from 400Mhz right through to 1066Mhz. DDR2 RAM is the most common type of RAM in use today, and can still be found in most new computers at your local electronics store.

DDR3 RAM is the newest development of the RAM module to be released on the market. The full name for it is Double-Data-Rate Three Synchronus Dynamic Random Access Memory. Perhaps it's best just to stick with DDR3. This RAM type offers two benefits over its previous version, those being increased data speed, and reduced power consumption.

DDR3 RAM can range in speed between 800Mhz and 1600Mhz. It's physical appearance is almost identical to DDR2 RAM in every way, except for the positioning of the slot on the pin edge. This makes it quite difficult to distinguish from DDR2 RAM, and determining which type via operating speed which may be printed on the side could also prove difficult as it shares the 800Mhz and 1066Mhz speeds with its DDR2 counterpart. Although it is not yet broadly found in home and office computers, we can expect this new RAM type to make a major appearance pretty soon.