Computer Education

Computer Memory
Internal RAM
Internal ROM
External Memory
Magnetic Media
Optical Media
Magneto-Optical Media
Cache Memory

First Punch Cards
Precursor to Modern Computer

Digital and Analog
Range of Computer Ability


Machine Language
Assembly Language
High-Level Languages

Operating System
Computer Memory
Input Devices
Central Processing Unit
Output Devices

Branching Instructions
Clock Pulses
Fixed-Point and Floating-Point Numbers

Early Computers
The Integrated Circuit

Computer Memory

Computer Memory, a mechanism that stores data for use by a computer. In a computer all data consist of numbers. A computer stores a number into a specific location in memory and later fetches the value. Most memories represent data with the binary number system. In the binary number system, numbers are represented by sequences of the two binary digits 0 and 1, which are called bits (see Number Systems). In a computer, the two possible values of a bit correspond to the on and off states of the computer's electronic circuitry.

In memory, bits are grouped together so they can represent larger values. A group of eight bits is called a byte and can represent decimal numbers ranging from 0 to 255. The particular sequence of bits in the byte encodes a unit of information, such as a keyboard character. One byte typically represents a single character such as a number, letter, or symbol. Most computers operate by manipulating groups of 2, 4, or 8 bytes called words.

Memory capacity is usually quantified in terms of kilobytes, megabytes, and gigabytes. Although the prefixes kilo-, mega-, and giga-, are taken from the metric system, they have a slightly different meaning when applied to computer memories. In the metric system, kilo- means 1 thousand; mega-, 1 million; and giga-, 1 billion. When applied to computer memory, however, the prefixes are measured as powers of two, with kilo- meaning 2 raised to the 10th power, or 1,024; mega- meaning 2 raised to the 20th power, or 1,048,576; and giga- meaning 2 raised to the 30th power, or 1,073,741,824. Thus, a kilobyte is 1,024 bytes and a megabyte is 1,048,576 bytes. It is easier to remember that a kilobyte is approximately 1,000 bytes, a megabyte is approximately 1 million bytes, and a gigabyte is approximately 1 billion bytes.


Computer memory may be divided into two broad categories known as internal memory and external memory. Internal memory operates at the highest speed and can be accessed directly by the central processing unit (CPU)—the main electronic circuitry within a computer that processes information. Internal memory is contained on computer chips and uses electronic circuits to store information (see Microprocessor). External memory consists of storage on peripheral devices that are slower than internal memories but offer lower cost and the ability to hold data after the computer’s power has been turned off. External memory uses inexpensive mass-storage devices such as magnetic hard drives. See also Information Storage and Retrieval.

Internal memory is also known as random access memory (RAM) or read-only memory (ROM). Information stored in RAM can be accessed in any order, and may be erased or written over. Information stored in ROM may also be random-access, in that it may be accessed in any order, but the information recorded on ROM is usually permanent and cannot be erased or written over.©