What Is Internal RAM?

Al Heurung

Internal random access memory (RAM) is computer memory that is built directly into the chip of a microcontroller, such as a computer’s central processing unit (CPU). It can be used by programmers to increase the speed of program functions by directly addressing internal RAM, ensuring that critical processes are queued and processed faster and at higher priority by the CPU. This can greatly speed up processor-intensive applications because frequently used instructions can be passed to the CPU much faster than drawing them from external ram.

Installing additional RAM may help increase computer speed.
Installing additional RAM may help increase computer speed.

CPUs have three levels of cache, or internal RAM. Processor cache is comprised of static RAM (SRAM), which is not the same as the typical memory installed on the motherboard, called dynamic RAM (DRAM). When the CPU looks for data, it checks first the Level 1 (L1) cache, then Level 2 (L2), then Level 3 (L3). Only after that will it pull data from the DRAM.

Adding RAM -- or Random Access Memory -- to your computer can increase its performance.
Adding RAM -- or Random Access Memory -- to your computer can increase its performance.

Within the processor, L1 cache is assigned to every core on the processor itself. This is the fastest internal RAM, because it acts as the buffer for instructions handed to each processor core as dictated by the program requesting processing. In multi-core processors, this can substantially speed processing if multiple cores are addressed individually through L1 cache requests.

The L2 cache is in the CPU package and thus is still considered internal RAM. It is not built directly onto the actual CPU chip as L1 cache is. Each core still has its own L2 cache dedicated to it and thus can operate in parallel, taking advantage of the L2 speeds. L2 cache is slower than L1 cache, however.

L3 cache is not within the CPU package, so it is not considered internal RAM but instead functions alongside it. It is the fastest external RAM available within a computer. All CPU cores share the L3 cache.

The entire process can be viewed as a queueing and breaking down of data from external DRAM, to internal RAM and finally to the actual processing instructions. Certain functions within any program are established at a higher priority than others, and those are moved to the front of the queue as part of the individual program’s optimization. The highest priority data is addressed directly to L1 cache for fastest processing, and the lowest priority queues through the entire process. The main difference is where cache is processed in a “pull from the waiting queue” method, internal RAM is software addressable, so data can be specifically assigned to individual internal RAM levels.

Unbuffered RAM is cheaper to purchase and install than buffered RAM.
Unbuffered RAM is cheaper to purchase and install than buffered RAM.

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Discussion Comments


@MrMoody - Gamers know a lot more about memory RAM types than the average Joe, from what I’ve seen. They’re always trying to tweak the maximum amount of performance from their computers, putting them on the bleeding edge so to speak.

There’s probably more to it than L1 cache sizes and how much RAM you’re getting if you’re a gamer, I would think. Unfortunately I am not up on the latest technology. I just use productivity applications on my computer so blazing speed is not a priority for me.


@Charred - It would be interesting to know how the computer identifies priority levels for the instructions, since this determines what data get pushed to the all powerful L1 cache first.

My guess is that the mathematical functions of a software program get high priority status since they require calculations, and they are therefore moved to the front of the line so to speak. Other functions, like parsing text or things which don’t require speed, probably get shuffled to the back of the line.


@NathanG - Yeah, not all types of RAM are the same. However, I will say that motherboard RAM is more useful because it’s the kind of RAM that is memory addressable by software.

I had a friend who, back in the early days of the computer revolution, kept adding more and more RAM to his computer so that he wouldn’t need a hard drive.

He just loaded the software into RAM, and left his computer on all the time. That’s a dangerous thing to do, of course, because if the computer shuts down you lose all the software and any data with it.

However, that’s what he did for the longest time. Nowadays there’s no point to do anything like that because all storage types, whether memory or hard disks or flash drives, are incredibly cheap.


Cached memory RAM is very important as the article points out. However, I think that most consumers don’t know that there are different types of RAM and therefore are unaware of internal RAM.

Consequently they don’t look for L1 cache when they buy a new computer. They want a computer with the fastest processor and the largest amount of RAM, meaning by that the motherboard (SRAM) mentioned in the article.

However, cache RAM increases your processor instruction speed; it’s like defragmenting your hard drive so that it minimizes your “read” operations to get the data you need.

As a result, you want to get a computer with the largest amount of cache memory that you can get. This number should be listed along with the other specifications on the box.

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