Like everything that man knows, computers have their peculiarities. Sometimes it seems that computers almost plan to confuse and frustrate users, as there are so many things that may be creating the strange behavior we see. Add to that the multiple forms of memory and the behaviors of each one, which can choose to exhibit quite strange and unwanted behavior at inopportune moments, and you will have the mix for a totally confusing experience.
However, there is no need to panic. Computer memory has a class of characteristics that are unique and that can help us better understand why it sometimes acts this way. These characteristics consist of volatility, mutability, accessibility and addressing. Add capacity and performance, and the combination is not that difficult to decipher. Armed with this knowledge, we can understand computer memory and help it perform better for us.
Some terms that we need to understand before we decide that the computer is just acting strange and needs to be replaced. Normally, the computer’s tendency to devour our documents and plague us with inoperative operations is just the fault of not understanding the abilities of the types of memories or of having more than one type even among the named memories we know, like RAM and ROM.
Volatility has two poles – what is volatile and what is not. The only difference is in what the memory can do if the computer loses power. Non-volatile memory will retain our work even without electricity. This kind of memory strives to make us happy, saving our favorite work and computer programs for later use.
Volatile memory would be called temperamental compared to how we work ourselves. Another way of looking at this type of memory is to think of it as the emotions of the computer. Just as we are unstable in our emotions, so are computers. This type of memory must have a constant source of energy in order not to retain its work. If the power disappears, the volatile memory will also disappear. Likes a good load.
The forms of dynamic and static memory are usually associated with RAM. Both forms are volatile and require a constant energy source, but the dynamic memory is updated periodically. Static memory is not updated, which makes it a useful option, but not as popular as dynamic memory.
Mutability is the ability of the computer’s memory to read and write storage and comes in the form of immutable and changeable memory types. Changeable storage can be overwritten more than once and is necessary for a computer to be useful for many of the tasks that users want to do with the computer. This type of memory is used for primary and secondary storage purposes. Among the specific types of storage and changeable memory is ROM. These are the changeable and immutable types of storage that are responsible for doing operations such as burning CDs, DVDs and other similar functions.
Accessibility is found in both random access forms and sequential forms. Random access is probably the best known and is affectionately called RAM. This means that storage can be accessed anywhere in approximately the same amount of time – which seems instantaneous, but it is not really.
Sequential memory is slower and information is collected and accessed in serial order. Typically, this type can be seen commonly with offline storage.
Addressability comes in three forms: location, file and content. The location is done by a numeric memory address usually limited to primary storage and accessed internally. The file is made up of file names with human readability. In other words, the name you gave a file is how it is addressed. Content addressability is concerned with a selected hash value – a short identifier with a number that points to the information’s memory address.
Now that the terms are not so mysterious, it will be easier to understand some of the memory-related behaviors that your computer displays. This should make using the computer a more enjoyable experience.