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What is EEPROM?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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EEPROM stands for Electrically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory, and is pronounced double-ee-prom or e-e-prom. It's a long name for a small chip that holds bits of data code that can be rewritten and erased by an electrical charge, one byte at a time. Its data cannot be selectively rewritten; the entire chip must be erased and rewritten to update its contents.

While Random Access Memory (RAM) loses its data every time you power down your computer, EEPROM does not require a power source to maintain its data. For this reason, it is commonly used by many BIOS chips to save system settings.

BIOS stands for Basic Input/Output System. When a computer is turned on, the BIOS chip executes a program called CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) that holds settings that enables the computer to recognize its hardware. Users can enter the CMOS program during boot-up to modify BIOS settings. Someone might need to do this, for instance, when he or she gets a new hard drive. After modifying the settings, the BIOS will save the new copy of instructions to EEPROM.

With the advent of EEPROM, manufacturers could also update the BIOS program itself. In the past this wasn't possible, and an outdated BIOS chip meant having to replace the chip by getting a newer motherboard. A BIOS chip that is upgradeable using this capability is called a flash BIOS, because the EEPROM is updated using electrical charges or flashes.

EEPROM is slower than RAM, but is perfectly fine for applications such as storing saved BIOS settings. It would not be chosen for applications with dynamic read/write requirements, as in the case of a digital camera, memory stick, or flash card. For these purposes, a newer hybrid form is used called flash memory. Flash memory differs in that its data can be selectively rewritten. It can also be erased and rewritten in entire blocks, rather then one byte at a time. This makes it much faster than EEPROM.

Newer flash BIOS chips may or may not use flash memory, rather than EEPROM. The BIOS is only called a flash BIOS because the memory it uses — in both cases — is reprogrammed by flashing the chip, either one byte at a time, or in blocks.

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Discussion Comments

By anon333669 — On May 07, 2013

Why is it still called "ROM" if you can rewrite it?

By anon130733 — On Nov 29, 2010

EEPROMs can be programmed directly with an EEPROM programming tool. The value of each memory position can be easily changed. EEPROMs can also be copied by using the same equipment. I have used EEPROM programmers (and own one) for programming remote industrial monitoring systems.

By anon112760 — On Sep 21, 2010

how do you copy the program of an eeprom and add it on a new one to keep in spare, instead of buying one from the manufacturer every time?

By anon91974 — On Jun 24, 2010

In case of power off, the voting details are saved and not erased.

So because of that reason we use eeprom in voting machines.

By anon28711 — On Mar 20, 2009

Why do we use eeprom in an electronic voting machine?

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