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What is Dynamic RAM?

By Jamie Kavanagh
Updated May 16, 2024
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Dynamic RAM is the standard computer memory of the vast majority of modern desktop computers. It is a volatile memory that needs to be refreshed with voltage regularly, otherwise it loses the information stored on it. Dynamic RAM is also referred to as DRAM. Volatile means that it loses the information stored on it as soon as power is withdrawn.

A random access memory (RAM) chip is a series of transistors and capacitors on a piece of silicon connected by circuitry. The capacitor is the element that stores the information and needs to be constantly charged with voltage, and refreshed to keep it. The voltage fades away quite quickly, and because these capacitors are small, they need to be refreshed often. This is where the "dynamic" element comes into play; each dynamic RAM chip has logic built into it which automatically refreshes each capacitor many times a second.

If the particular capacitor has data stored in it, it is powered regularly by the refresh. If it is empty, it is left unpowered. Each refresh is the logic reading each capacitor, checking to see if it has information, powering it if it does, and leaving it unpowered if it does not. This process happens many times a second and is one of the determining factors of how fast dynamic RAM is.

Dynamic RAM is referred to by its size and speed. For example, the packaging or description of the memory module might list 1066 Mhz 1 Gb DRAM. The 1066 Mhz is the speed at which a computer can read and write to the memory, and the higher number the better. The 1 Gb is the usable space on the chip; in this example, the chip can store 1 gigabyte of information on it while it has power. There are several different types of DRAM.

One type of DRAM is Double In-line Memory Module (DIMM), and it is the most popular type of memory for server and home use. Each side of the chip has connections, or pins, at the bottom and each side is separate, carrying more connections to the motherboard. Another type, Small Outline Double In-line Memory Module (SO-DIMM), is a smaller version of DIMM. SO-DIMM is used in laptops, routers, printers, and other smaller devices that use memory. The two types of memory work in exactly the same way as dynamic RAM, but are smaller and therefore more expensive to produce and buy.

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Discussion Comments
By waqasmalik — On Jun 24, 2012

Which kind of RAM is used in our mobile phones and why? Please tell me.

By w00dchuck41 — On Jul 31, 2011

My computer didn't come with enough RAM in it for gaming, so I set up virtual memory for it to use as DRAM.

It wasn't very hard. Just open control panel and click the "System" icon. Click the "Advanced" tab along the top of the window.

There are three boxes, chick the first "Settings" button in the "Performance" box. It will open up another window. Click the "Advanced" tab again and hit the "Change" button near the bottom.

Click in the "Custom Size" check box and type in 3000 as both the minimum and maximum file size. Click "Set" and then click "OK." You now have 4 gigabytes more RAM for your computer to use. Just make sure that you have that much to spare before you do this.

By hanley79 — On Jul 30, 2011

Oh, neat, I didn't know RAM was used in so many different things. People always go on and on about RAM for your personal computer, but it just never occurred to me that it was used in printers and stuff.

I wonder if printers and scanners and stuff would perform better if they were designed to use bigger regular computer RAM instead of SO-DIMM RAM?

By gimbell — On Jul 30, 2011

@ahain - Yeah, the names for various kinds of RAM never fail to confuse my less tech-savvy friends. I fix people's computers for a living, so I've gotten familiar with these terms, but at first they did all kind of blur together.

I like how this article explains how the capacitors on the RAM circuit board work. Most references for what RAM is do not go this in-depth, and it's a great explanation of why RAM is truly dynamic and random access. It only remembers as long as it has a charge!

This actually means it lasts much longer than traditional solid-state mediums like hard discs, which have to physically burn spots onto themselves with lasers to save data in binary.

RAM does not physically write on itself at all, but instead uses the electrical charges in each capacitor to "remember" what information has been temporarily saved there.

You can use the same stick of RAM for years without it wearing out. Eventually, of course, all computer parts can go bad, and RAM is no exception. Keep a spare stick on hand, or better yet, upgrade frequently -- the more RAM the better, in my opinion.

By ahain — On Jul 29, 2011

So that's what "SO-DIMM" means! I always wondered why my laptop's kind of RAM was referred to by a completely different name than my desktop computer's RAM. Small Outline Double In-line Memory Module is quite a mouthful, so I can see why they turned it into an acronym.

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