Memory Explained

One of the many confusing terms that befuddles computer Newbies is memory.  Over the years, I have found that even people proficient in using their computer get confused when told they need more RAM (Random Access Memory) or need more disk space.  I hear stories that they either bought a bigger hard drive or added more RAM yet their computer is still slow.  Unfortunately, they upgraded the wrong component. Here is a very basic explanation that seems to get rid of the MEGO (My Eyes Glazed Over) look.

Imagine an office before computers with a desk and a filing cabinet.  Sitting in the chair to do work one reaches into the filing cabinet and pulls out some papers to work on, placing them on the desktop.  Upon completion of the paperwork, the papers are filed back in the cabinet.  This is the equivalent of opening a program and using data from the hard drive (getting it from the file cabinet where it is stored) and loading it into RAM (working with it on the desk).  The changed data files are saved to the hard drive and the program is closed.  The papers on the desk (symbolic of RAM using temporary memory) have been put back in the file cabinet (symbolic of hard drive) and the desktop (symbolic of Ram) is cleared.

Let’s pretend that was Mom balancing the checkbook.  Along comes Dad and he wants to do the taxes.  From the file cabinet he pulls several files with forms, receipts, and instructions.  He grabs a calculator too.  The small desk with plenty of room for Mom is now cluttered with files on top of each other and the calculator acting as a paperweight.  Shuffling through everything is time consuming and inefficient.  If only the desk was bigger.  In the computing world, Dad has opened his tax program, its help files, the calculator program, and a word processor with his notes.  A computer that had enough RAM to balance a checkbook is now so low on RAM that it has to swap data in RAM to the hard disk – similar to the small desk with papers in use on top of those not immediately needed but not able to be filed in the file cabinet.  Clearly, a scenario where someone uses a lot of programs and multi-tasking among them would benefit from adding RAM.

In the mean time, when Mom is not balancing the checkbook and Dad is not working on taxes, she likes to have the computer on running one program to listen to her favorite music player.  To enjoy it she has purchased hundreds or thousands of songs and stored all of them on her disk.  This scenario presents the need for a small desk (RAM) just big enough for a radio but a very large area needed to store all of the records/cassettes/CD’s (Hard Drive).  No need to upgrade by adding RAM for this but more hard drive capacity is essential to file all of the music.