RAM (Random Access Memory) is the hardware in a computing device where the operating system (OS), application programs and data in current use are kept so they can be quickly reached by the device's processor RAM is the main memory in a computer, and it is much faster to read from and write to than other kinds of storage, such as a hard disk drive (HDD), solid-state drive (SSD) or optical drive. Random Access Memory is volatile. That means data is retained in RAM as long as the computer is on, but it is lost when the computer is turned off. When the computer is rebooted, the OS and other files are reloaded into RAM, usually from an HDD or SSD.
Because of its volatility, Random Access Memory can't store permanent data. RAM can be compared to a person's short-term memory, and a hard drive to a person's long-term memory. Short-term memory is focused on immediate work, but it can only keep a limited number of facts in view at any one time. When a person's short-term memory fills up, it can be refreshed with facts stored in the brain's long-term memory. A computer also works this way. If RAM fills up, the computer's processor must repeatedly go to the hard disk to overlay the old data in RAM with new data. This process slows the computer's operation.
The term random access as applied to RAM comes from the fact that any storage location, also known as any memory address, can be accessed directly. Originally, the term Random Access Memory was used to distinguish regular core memory from offline memory. Offline memory typically referred to magnetic tape from which a specific piece of data could only be accessed by locating the address sequentially, starting at the beginning of the tape. RAM is organized and controlled in a way that enables data to be stored and retrieved directly to and from specific locations. Other types of storage -- such as the hard drive and CD-ROM -- are also accessed directly or randomly, but the term random access isn't used to describe these other types of storage.
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