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What is Base Memory?

By Keith Koons
Updated May 16, 2024
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Base memory refers to the minimum amount of random access memory (RAM) that a computer needs to function. The term is actually applied to several components inside the computer system and the basic input/output system (BIOS), the motherboard, and the video card each have their own base memory value. While additional RAM would allow the system to function more efficiently, the base is the minimum requirement for each individual component to function. These amounts normally come preinstalled by the manufacturer and remain independent of any other component.

Manufacturers install base memory to allow PCs to load faster, remain more secure, and to ensure that each critical system device can always have enough resources to process tasks. These tiny sticks of RAM are hardwired directly to each component for quick sharing times. Since they are a permanent hardware component that is vital to the system, if they are damaged the computer will fail to load properly.

While BIOS has a very low base memory, a computer system could not operate without it. This is where all of the initial startup data is stored within a personal computer (PC), along with the user's preferred settings for the way each hardware option loads. The base memory for BIOS is installed into the motherboard on a tiny microchip that is not much larger than a thumbtack. It is independent from the system memory to protect the area from becoming infected by a virus.

Most video cards come preinstalled with a base memory of 32 or 64 megabytes (MB), with the top-of-the-line cards having a much greater amount. In this instance, the preset memory allows the computer to generate images on a computer monitor without any outside assistance from other systems. Some PCs utilize what is called shared memory, which would include a low base memory solely for the video card. Within this configuration, the memory installed on the motherboard could be borrowed by the video card when system resources could allow it.

The motherboard does not usually have base memory under the practical definition, but each computer and operating system (OS) has minimum requirements for the programs to be able to load. Many experts would consider the first stick of RAM to qualify as this type of memory even though it can easily be removed. Most PCs have between two to four memory slots and at least one of them has to have RAM inserted into it for the computer to function.

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Discussion Comments
By Charred — On Aug 21, 2011

@nony - You can’t get away from increased RAM demands, because computers are getting to be more powerful.

A base RAM of 64 megabytes might be okay for a video card, but you will get minimal performance out of your computer if that’s all you have in my opinion.

I have 512 megabytes of RAM for my video card because it’s a gaming PC, and even that amount of memory is considered standard nowadays. As long as people keep demanding more and more power out of their computers, RAM demands will increase. I think this is another side effect of Moore’s law too, about computer processing power increasing every eighteen months or so.

By nony — On Aug 20, 2011

@MrMoody - I have eight gigabytes of RAM on my computer. I don’t know how much is “base” memory for the motherboard, but if it’s the first stick like the article says, then I suppose it’s the first gigabyte of RAM, since I have 1 gigabyte RAM sticks on the computer.

I seriously doubt the machine needs a whole gigabyte to run the operating system. If it does, however, this is more a testament to computer software bloat than anything else. In my Linux days I used to think that no one would need more than 16 megabytes or so of RAM to run an operating system. With Windows, all of that changed.

I believe that software developers need to return to the days of writing concise, lean and efficient code, despite having gobs of RAM to work with.

By MrMoody — On Aug 20, 2011

Almost no one pays attention to base memory anymore because it is hardwired into the system.

I do appreciate the fact that the BIOS is separate from other units of memory to protect it from viruses. If your computer got infected with a virus you could still clean it, or in a worst case scenario, at least wipe it out by formatting your hard drive and starting over. Your BIOS would still need to work though so that the computer could start up okay.

Without it, your whole system would be shot and you would need a new computer.

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