RAM works in synch with the system bus, as I described in the previous chapter. But what is RAM actually? RAM is a very central component in a PC, for without RAM there can be no data processing. RAM is simply the storage area where all software is loaded and works from.
Different types of RAM.
Silicon storage area
RAM is made in electronic chips made of so-called semiconductor material, just like processors and many other types of chips.
In RAM, transistors make up the individual storage cells which can each “remember” an amount of data, for example, 1 or 4 bits – as long as the PC is switched on.
Fig. 126. Manufacturing RAM.
Normal RAM is dynamic (called DRAM), and requires constant electronic recharging to preserve its data contents. Without power, all RAM cells are cleared. RAM is very closely linked to the CPU, and it is very important to both have enough RAM, and to have fast RAM. If both conditions are not met, the RAM will be a bottleneck which will slow down the PC. What follows is an introduction to RAM, as it is used in modern PC’s. After this I will discuss the various types I more detail.
At the time of writing, there are several types of RAM, which are quite different. This means that they normally cannot be used on the same motherboard – they are not compatible.
However, some motherboards can have sockets for two types of RAM. You typically see this during periods where there is a change taking place from one type of RAM to another. Such motherboards are really designed for the new type, but are made “backwards compatible”, by making room for RAM modules of the old type.
The RAM types on the market at the moment are:
Older and slower type. No use.
Advanced RAM. Only used for very few Pentium 4’s with certain Intel chipsets
A faster version of SD RAM. Used both for Athlon and Pentium 4’s. 2,5 Volt.
New version of DDR RAM with higher clock frequencies. 1,8 Volt.
Figur 127. Very different types of RAM.
In any case, there is a lot of development taking place in DDR. A number of new RAM products will be released within the next few years. The modules are packaged differently, so they cannot be mixed. The notches in the sides are different as the he bottom edges of the modules are.
SDRAM is an old and proven type, which is used in the majority of existing PC’s. DDR RAM is a refinement of SDRAM, which is in reality double clocked. Rambus RAM is an advanced technology which in principle is superior to DDR RAM in many ways. However, Rambus has had a difficult birth. The technology has been patented by Rambus Inc., which has been involved in many legal suits. A number of important manufacturers (such as VIA) have opted out of Rambus, and only develop products which use DDR RAM. With the new DDR2 standard, there is no obvious need for Rambus RAM.
Notes on the physical RAM
RAM stands for Random Access Memory. Physically, RAM consists of small electronic chips which are mounted in modules (small printed circuit boards). The modules are installed in the PC’s motherboard using sockets — there are typically 2, 3 or 4 of these. On this motherboard there are only two, and that’s a bit on the low side of what is reasonable.
Figur 128. RAM modules are installed in sockets on the motherboard. In the background you see the huge fan on a Pentium 4 processor.
Each RAM module is a rectangular printed circuit board which fits into the sockets on the motherboard:
Fig. 129. A 512 MB DDR RAM module.
On a module there are typically 8 RAM chips which are soldered in place. There can also be 16 if it is a double-sided module. Below is a single RAM chip:
Fig. Figur 130.
A single RAM chip, a 256 megabit circuit.
On the bottom edge of the module you can see the copper coated tracks which make electrical contact (the edge connector). Note also the profile of the module; this makes it only possible to install it one way round and in the right socket.
Fig. 131. Anatomy of the SD RAM module.
The notches in the sides of the module fit the brackets or “handles” which hold the module in place in the motherboard socket: