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Volatile memory is the temporary random access memory (RAM) in a computer. This type of memory holds the program and operating system files that a user has active, but it does not keep its contents when the user shuts off the computer. RAM is considerably faster than the permanent storage devices a computer has, so it works well for its purpose. The temporary nature of volatile memory is a disadvantage, however, because a user will lose any unsaved data if his or her computer loses power unexpectedly or if the computer crashes.
All computers and many other devices use volatile memory, because it is useful for quickly storing and accessing operating system and program files and holds the information in the memory as long as the computer has power. When a user opens a program and starts to type a document, the program and its data run in the computer's RAM until the user saves the file to the hard drive, CD or floppy disk for permanent storage. This describes non-volatile memory. This includes hard drives, flash memory and read-only memory. Volatile and non-volatile memory work together to play a critical part in a computer's data storage and transfers.
Volatile memory comes in various speeds and form factors that are used for both desktop and laptop computers. The larger memory sticks are used in desktop computers while more compact memory is reserved for laptop computers and for some all-in-one models. Double data rate (DDR) memory is relatively fast, is supported by most newer motherboards, and is available in form factors that fit both laptops and desktops. Some systems take advantage of dual-channel technology that noticeably improves the computer's speed and performance. In this type of configuration, a set of two sticks of the same kind of DDR memory is installed so both RAM sticks can work together effectively.
There are some downsides to temporary memory, but its benefits outweigh the negative aspects. A major concern is the data loss that can occur if there's a power outage, unexpected system reboot or power supply failure, but there are uninterruptible power supplies that can be used to lessen this threat. Another way to prevent data loss when one works on a document is to save the document as often as possible or to use a program that automatically saves changes to the hard drive.