Types of RAM and ROM

Jim Hurst

However. Non-volatile RAM and its uses are discussed later in this essay. ICs. RAM is normally used in computer systems for main memory or primary storage. modern operating systems run primarily in RAM. Dynamic RAM (DRAM) . most RAM remains volatile. although they all perform essentially the same function—to store data and provide for its retrieval. although retrieving data from a hard drive can take considerable longer. and then it is followed with a discussion of read only memory. the consumer electronics industry has embraced them wholeheartedly. Moving data from primary storage to the processor requires only a few cycles. Consider a music player the size of a deck of cards that can store all the works of Beethoven—with enough room left over to store a set of encyclopedias. such as tape and disk drive. Historically. They come in many different flavors. This is where running programs and the data they use are stored. These are referred to as microchips. The access time to any piece of data stored on in RAM is essentially the same. Two of the most successful gadgets in the last decade (the digital camera and the portable music player) are built around memory chips. as the price has plummeted. or chips. Both types of memory are normally packaged as integrated circuits. they move these programs and their data into RAM for faster processing. Random access memory is examined in the next section. which are small electronic circuits that consist mostly of semiconductors. This article examines two key storage technologies in modern electronic devices: random access memory (RAM) and read only memory (ROM). RAM can be categorized as volatile or non-volatile. For this reason. Beyond that point. When referring to computer systems. Random Access Memory (RAM) The name random access memory is an artifact of hardware evolution. which is in contrast to the more restricted access provided by other memory systems. memory chips. Volatile means that all data is lost when the chip is powered down. Random access means that the stored data can be accessed in any order. At the heart of this success story are two technologies: processors and storage. the differences between the two systems begin to become important. they enable the performance we expect in modern computers. The economic driver for the development of these chips has historically been the computer industry. non-volatile RAM was a tiny part of the market.Introduction Decades of intensive research into integrated circuits has produced classes of electronic devices with amazing performance. although consumer electronics have changed that situation. Memory chips are everywhere: in your car. television. and as they load and run additional applications. Because they provide high-speed storage. and phone.

such as routers. The two primary applications of SRAM are embedded use and in computers. it still requires constant current to maintain the voltage differentials. to buffer transmitted information. SRAM in computer systems is usually delegated to roles where a small amount of highspeed memory is required. Printers and liquid crystal displays (LCDs) often use SRAM to buffer images. This is a common solution in gaming consoles. and almost all appliances or toys with an electronic user interface. As with DRAM. although its power requirements vary depending on clock speed. Static RAM (SRAM) Static RAM (SRAM) has the advantage of being faster than DRAM. SRAM is static in the sense that it doesn’t require constant electrical refreshes. DRAM also suffers periodic access limitations. they have some important differences. When idle. however. SRAM generally requires less power than DRAM. One disadvantage with using capacitors for storage is that they gradually dissipate their charge. such as cell phones and music synthesizers. it can use as much power as DRAM. such as processor caches and I/O buffers. Dynamic RAM is less expensive. Devices. At higher clock speeds. Although both types require constant electrical current to function. because it cannot be read during the refresh cycle. switches. and therefore it is the most widely used. One specialized type of DRAM is more common is embedded DRAM. and it will likely become a staple in embedded systems. can incorporate several megabytes of SRAM. The DRAM chip requires only one transistor and one capacitor for each bit of storage. SRAM power requirements are low. industrial equipment. . so the charge must be refreshed regularly (current specifications are for the refresh to occur every 64 milliseconds or less). When a computer is said to have 512 megabytes or one gigabyte of RAM. or EDRAM. although the disadvantage is that it is more expensive. and cable modems. at more moderate speeds. it requires only a fraction of what DRAM uses. This refresh requirement is what makes this technology dynamic. This means that SRAM cannot achieve the storage densities of the DRAM family. EDRAM is DRAM integrated onto the same chip as the processor and used as cache memory. however. the specification refers to dynamic RAM (DRAM). although DRAM needs only one transistor and one capacitor. Embedded use refers to SRAM use in automotive and consumer electronics. Each bit in a SRAM chip requires a cell of six transistors. SRAM chips are mostly large arrays of these cells of transistors. DRAM stores each bit of information in a separate capacitor on the integrated circuit. SRAM is also widely used in networking devices.Most computers incorporate two types of volatile RAM: static and dynamic. This makes it both cheap and space efficient.

can be erased by exposure to strong ultraviolet light and programmed again. The PROM is a cheaper and more flexible approach than mask ROM. The first ROMs were mask-programmed ROMs. EPROM uses arrays of floating gate transistors.SRAM should not be confused with synchronous DRAM (SDRAM) or pseudostatic RAM (PSRAM). The capacity of EEPROMs ranges up to hundreds of kilobits. current EEPROMs can sustain one million write-erases or more. permanent. they have largely been supplanted by erasable versions of ROM. The electronically erasable programmable read only memory (EEPROM) has largely supplanted all other types of ROM in the current generation of computing devices. Thus. Typically. was the next step. The Programmable Read Only Memory (PROM) was the next step. As the term electronically erasable implies. EPROM chips preserve their data for roughly10 to 20 years and allow for an unlimited number of reads. During programming. Although early models would fail after 100 write-erase cycles. usually by creating a high-voltage pulse on the chip. and relatively fast. so the number of writes is limited. There are several types of read only memory (ROM). however. such as bootstrap or BIOS code. which had 1s and 0s actually burned into the integrated circuit. This rewriting eventually damages the layer of insulating material on the chip. and it was often used to contain the startup code (bootstrap) for early microcomputers. The erasable programmable read only memory. The most popular use of EPROMs in computer systems was to store the BIOS in older PC systems. ROMs have traditionally been used in computer systems to store configuration data. The PROM is a memory array consisting of a grid of fuses. The erasing window is kept covered by a foil label to prevent erasure by exposure to sunlight. EEPROMs can be erased and rewritten. PROMs are reliable. the fuses that represent the zero bits are blown by the programming device. They are still in limited use. This technique was simple but inflexible. . however. These ROMs are called read only because they cannot be modified by the casual user (and some types cannot be modified at all). Mask ROM is now obsolete. although most are obsolete. The two common types of non-volatile memory are read only memory and flash memory. Read Only Memory (ROM) Non-volatile memory retains data even when not powered. even though they are direct descendants of PROMs. This is now the preferred technology for storing the BIOS in personal computers. EPROM chips usually have a distinctive transparent quartz window on the top of the chip that exposes the transistors to the UV light. although each PROM can still be programmed only once. EPROMs. the blank PROM comes with all bits set to 1. which sends high voltage pulses to destroy individual fuses. which are programmed higher voltage pulses much like PROMs. which requires fast access. or EPROM.

however. Phase-change memory (PRAM or PCM) is another non-volatile memory type based on the phase change properties of chalcogenide glass. It has been wildly successful in consumer devices. and write-erase duty cycles. Z-RAM (zero capacitor RAM) is a potential replacement for SRAM. solid-state storage. pressure. This makes flash memory a good candidate for hard disk drive replacement in situations requiring ruggedized hardware. Magnetoresistive RAM (MRAM) stores data in magnetic storage elements—not as electrical charge or current flow. The demand for faster. and vendors are responding with several innovative solutions. Flash Memory Flash memory is an interesting case. although it is faster than most ROM types. Ferroelectric RAM. Emerging Technologies This discussion is not complete without examining the technologies now under development. flash is rugged and can withstand physical traumas. is used for the main memory in most computers. Flash memory offers read access times slower than DRAM.EEPROMs have begun to fill the roles of RAM rather than ROM. write speeds. they are not writable by the casual user. but it offers superior performance in power usage. such as impacts. RAM. It offers the performance of six transistor SRAM using only a single transistor. Packaged in a memory card. The per unit storage cost of flash drives is still significantly higher than traditional disk storage. and boiling. which can be switched from crystalline to amorphous states by the application of heat. or random access memory. which therefore can provide much higher densities. The common types of RAM are dynamic RAM and static RAM. and game consoles. or FeRAM. which can be electrically erased and reprogrammed. is another non-volatile memory type trying to gain market acceptance. EEPROMs are not strictly read only. such as music players. but it does not require refresh cycles. It is similar to flash RAM. Dynamic RAM (DRAM) requires . digital cameras. PRAM offers high densities and can be useful in harsh environments where radiation disrupts other types of RAM. Summary Computers and electronic devices require high-speed storage and lots of it. cheaper. it is much less expensive than EEPROM. Although flash memory is erased only one block or page at a time. This has made it the most popular form of non-volatile. better memory is enormous. MRAM is physically similar to DRAM. It is a specialized descendant (or perhaps close relative) of EEPROM that is also based on floating gate transistors.

Read only memory.constant refreshes of electrical current. EPROM has largely been replaced by electrically erasable programmable ROM (EEPROM). Programmable ROM (PROM) lead to the development of erasable programmable ROM (EPROM). or ROM. EEPROM is still used to store BIOS code on computers. How Stuff Works: http://www.htm . Flash memory is a commercially successful variation of EEPROM that can be used like RAM.howstuffworks. is memory that users cannot write to.com/paedia/r/ram_guide/ram_guide.com/k12/semiconductors/history. However.html How RAM Works. References: Websites Ars Technica.com/computermemory.aspx Computer Memory.part12. it is the most widely used type of solid-state memory. Micron Technology: http://www. It has traditionally been used to store BIOS code in computers. Because DRAM is less expensive. Static RAM uses less power and is faster than DRAM.micron. RAM Guide: http://arstechnica.

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