Random Access Memory

Random Access Memory


What is RAM

RAM, or random access memory is one of the most crucial parts of many electronics such as game consoles, smartphones, desktop computers, and laptops to name a few. Without RAM none of these devices would function very well. All be it, they would function extremely slow. In a sense, RAM is the short term memory of a computer, and much like the short term memory of a human, RAM can be accessed quickly and with ease. However, it can only store so much information. Similarly, we can compare SSD storage and think of that as long term memory in humans. It is a bit more difficult to access and takes longer to recall, but there is an abundance of space there. An important thing to note is that RAM is volatile. This means that when power is shut off to a device, anything stored is RAM is lost.

Generally speaking, RAM is measured in gigabytes (GB). As far as where RAM is installed, it generally goes in the DIMM slots on a motherboard. For many devices like some laptops and many desktop computers, these RAM sticks are interchangeable. However, in many cases, for phones, laptops, and other devices the RAM may be soldered on. This means that there is no way to interchange the RAM at a later date.

Is bigger better? Well, that’s a trick question really. Bigger doesn’t always mean better, however, it is possible to have to little. There is certainly a minimum you need to properly run a laptop or desktop PC. Size is not the only aspect of RAM you should be concerned about. More gigabytes means that you can open up more tasks on your computer at once, but to increase speed, you want to consider the frequency of the RAM.

Similar to how CPUs have clock speeds memory also has its own speeds. The bandwidth of RAM is generally measured in MHz and often ranges from 2,133 to 3,200 MHz. Today’s RAM can, however, get all the way up to 4,000 MHz.

So how much RAM is enough? There is no one answer for that question. It all depends on your uses. Perhaps you are a person who just likes to browse the internet and watch YouTube on your computer and occasionally, you open up a word document. Well, in that case, you wouldn’t need anything more than 8 GB of RAM. However, say you are an avid gamer who likes to play the most hardware intensive games on the market. In this case, you may need at least 16 GB of RAM. It all depends on your use.

Brief History of RAM

RAM first came about in 1947 with the use of what is called a Williams tube. In this primitive state, data was stored on the face of these cathode ray tubes as electrically charged spots. The second form of RAM utilized magnetic-core memory. This memory worked by using small metal rings and wires connected to each ring. A bit of data could be stored to each ring and accessed at any time. RAM as we know it today was invented by a man named Robert Dennard in 1968. This type of RAM used solid state memory and used transistors to store data.

What are the different types of RAM

SRAM: Also known as Static RAM came onto the market in the 1990s and is still being used today. This is one of the most basic types of RAM alongside DRAM. This type of RAM requires a continuous flow of electricity in order to function and will lose all data if that flow is shut off. Because it is always on when the power is flowing, it does not need to be refreshed and therefore has faster access speeds than say DRAM. It also has less power consumption that DRAM. Because this type of RAM is harder to produce in large capacity than DRAM and is more expensive, it is generally used in CPUs and video cards.

DRAM: Also known as Dynamic RAM came into the market in the 1970s and remained the same until the 1990s. In the 1990s DRAM was overhauled with what is now known as EDO DRAM and BEDO DRAM. These two types of DRAM made improvements to both speed and cost effectiveness, however both improvements were made obsolete by the invention of SDRAM. During its time of service though, it was used in video cards as well as system memory. What was DRAM though? What differentiated DRAM from SRAM was the fact that unlike SRAM, DRAM needed to “refresh.” Capacitors would hold a charge and power DRAM and then those capacitors would slowly discharge and need to be recharged, hence the constant refreshing. This made it slower to access than its counterpart, SRAM.

SDRAM: Also known as Synchronous Dynamic RAM came into the market in 1993. As the name would imply, SDRAM is synchronized with something, but what is that something? Well, it is synchronized with the CPU clock. The main benefit and change that this causes is the ability to run overlapping instructions in parallel. This is known as pipelining and means that you can now read a new instruction before the previous one has been written. This does not, however, change the speed at which each individual instruction is processed. It instead simply allows multiple instructions to run simultaneously therefore increasing overall clock speed. This type of RAM is very prevalent in the market and is often used for desktop computers and laptops.

DDR SDRAM: Also known as Double Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic RAM came onto the market in 2000. Again, the name is pretty self-explanatory. This type of RAM could now read and write 2 instructions simultaneously doubling the clock speed. This is what we see in most modern RAM and where we get some familiar terms like DDR2, DDR3, and DDR4. The difference between the different DDR RAMS is most importantly, the clock speeds. DDR2 tops out at 533MHz, DDR3 at 800 MHz, and DDR4 at 1600 MHz. This type of RAM is used in essentially all modern devices.

GDDR SDRAM: Also known as Graphics Double Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic RAM was introduced to the market in 2003. This RAM was specifically designed to be used in graphics cards. While very similar to DDR SDRAM, GDDR has more bandwidth than it does latency. The best description I found online for this was as follows: GDDR is like a sixteen lane highway with a fifty five mile an hour speed limit and DDR is like a two lane highway with an eighty five mile limit.

The industry

The Market

Over the past 18 months, the price of DDR4-2400 and DDR4-3000 has been hovering around 200 dollars for 4 sticks of 4 GB. Since the new year however, we have seen the price of DDR4-2400 drop below 200 and reach about 120 dollars on average. At the current trend, it is set to drop to or below 100 by June of this year. In fact, since the new year, the majority of RAM configurations and speeds have been seeing a downward trend in price. Only the more high end RAM seems to be staying stable.

A big issue in the global RAM market over the course of 2017 and 2018 has been the immense increase in RAM prices. In June of 2016 you could buy 16 GB of DDR4-3000 for 70 dollars, but as stated previously, that same amount now costs 200 dollars. Experts attribute the rise in prices to a severe lack in production to keep with demand. The demand for RAM grew by nearly 20% but the markets production only grew by about 6%. The huge spike in demand is attributed largely to the boom in smartphone sales from early 2017 to the end of 2018. Finally, in 2019, seeing sluggish smartphone sales, prices have dropped.

The Players

There are a three huge players in the RAM industry that make up almost 96% of the market. The big three are Samsung at 45.5% market share, SK Hynix at 29.1% market share, and Micron at 21.1% market share. The next highest is Nanya at a mere 2.8% market share. The RAM market is in essence a triopoly. Now, when we as consumers go on to Amazon or Newegg, we do not buy RAM directly from the manufacturers. We buy from various companies such as G.Skill, Hyperx or Corsair. These memory companies all get their RAM manufactured by someone else, slap their brand and personal flair on the product, and then ship it out. This isn’t to say that manufacturers don’t sell to consumers though. Micron sells directly to the public through their brand, Crucial, and Samsung sells RAM under the Samsung brand. Essentially, the only reason various brands exist is to appeal to different markets.

What’s Next


We have seen big companies like Micron announce that DDR5 would be released on the tail end of 2019. This new platform is expected to have speeds anywhere from 5,200 MHz to 6,400 MHz. While this is certainly an improvement, it is by no means groundbreaking. The biggest difference will be in capacity. DDR5 is expected to be able to reach stick capacities of 32 GB which is double what was previously available. Another notable quality is the reduced power draw of DDR5. It is expected that DDR5 will draw 1.05v of electricity compared to DDR4 which draws between 1.2 and 1.4. This new standard will not come cheap and is going to take a while to really penetrate the market. Hynix expects 25% of the RAM market to be made of DDR5 by 2021 and 44% by 2022.


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