Elderly Computer Users – Jargon Buster #6 -What is computer memory?


Much like you have two types of memory,short term and long term memory, a computer has RAM and a hard drive to serve as its memory.

Example of RAM.


The computer counterpart to short term memory is RAM.  RAM stands for Random Access Memory, and is made up of memory chips.  RAM typically is lost when you turn off your computer.  RAM is very fast.  For all practical purposes your computer can instantly access any portion of RAM.


Hard Drive


The hard drive is our long term memory analogue.  On computers the hard drive serves to store large quantities of data, such as documents and images, between computer sessions.  Data on a hard drive is preserved when the computer is powered down.  Hard drives get their name, because the data is stored on magnetically sensitive metallic plates which are, as you most likely guessed it, hard!

Super Simple Memory Example:

When you go to make your morning cup of coffee, you go through several steps to before you’re able to drink it:

1.  Get the coffee can out of the cupboard.

2. Locate the coffee pot.

3. Locate the measuring spoon.

4. Add water to the coffee pot

5.  Measure coffee into the coffee pot.

6.  Turn on the coffee pot.

7.  Let it run.

8.  Grap a cup

9.  Pour coffee

10.  Enjoy!


How do you remember those steps?  Really there are two main processes ocuring:

1.  You use your long term memory to retireve the steps required to make coffee.

2.  Once its retrieved, you use your short term memory to remember what step you are on and what is the next step; that is it!


A computer’s memory work in similar fashion.  In step one, the program and data is read from the hard drive, in step two, the computer uses RAM to know what step it is working on and what next steps to take.


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