Difference Between RAM & ROM Memory

By Edward Mercer

Computers use different types of memory for different processes.
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While their acronyms are similar and both are types of memory, RAM and ROM are two completely different types of computer hardware and are used very differently in your computer. Simply put, RAM is used for temporary operations and running applications while ROM is used to store unchanging data about basic processes. If your computer were a brain, ROM would store data on how to digest food and breath, while RAM would help you solve algebra problems.

What is RAM?

Random Access Memory (RAM) is used to temporarily store application data so your computer processor doesn't have to go back and re-read the hard disk every time it needs a bit of information. Essentially, these memory chips store frequently used data on a smaller space than a hard disk to make it more easily accessible and increase processing speed. As you use your computer, your operating system decides what it needs easy access to and moves that information to RAM storage.

What is ROM?

Read Only Memory (ROM) permanently stores vital system information on chips that cannot be altered by the operating system or the user. ROM stores data on processes like what happens when your computer turns on or how it communicates with basic peripherals like keyboards; in other words, data that keeps your computer working at the most basic level and does not need to be reconfigured or customized. As the name indicates, your computer reads these files, but does not make any changes to their content.

Scaleability and Impact on Performance

RAM is a frequently customized and upgraded on computer systems. As a general rule, upgrading or increasing the amount of RAM on a computer allows a system to store more temporary data and refer back to hard disk memory less frequently, increasing the speed with which your computer can access information and process data. Increasing computer ROM, on the other hand, is seldom a concern. Upgrading from a very basic system can require more ROM to manage new high-tech peripherals, but -- once some basic configuration elements are in place -- increases in ROM have no appreciable impact on computer processing speed.

Temporary and Permanent Storage

When you shut off your computer, your RAM is wiped clean, with data either transferred to the hard disk or eliminated altogether. This kind of storage is called volatile memory and allows your RAM to create fresh space for new processes and applications. In contrast, data stored to ROM is permanently written and stays on the chips even when your computer has no power. When you turn your computer back on, your operating system refers to these ROM chips for information on what to do.