RAM vs ROM – What’s the Difference?

Last Updated on 17 February, 2024 by Sourav Roy

Though the names may seem similar, there are in fact several differences between RAM and ROM, especially so when it comes to the ones used in computers. These differences exist in the form of physical size differences, capacities, storage capabilities and even the uses. We’ll briefly talk about RAM vs ROM. How each of these work and how they’re different from each other.


1. RAM

RAMs are some of the fastest forms of memory used in computers. The system stores temporary data in its RAM and also uses it to have faster app switching speeds. For instance, the webpage you’re reading right now is currently on the RAM and is running through it. RAM chips often support quite a lot of capacity. Most computers and laptops come with 4 GB to 8 GB of RAM out of the box, unless the user specifies higher RAM.

Although, laptops don’t always support extra RAM. Several are capped at 8 GBs, especially among the lower-end options. You’d have to get a good 50k laptop or something pricier to have extensive RAM support.


2. ROM

ROM is a non-volatile storage medium used in computers, Nintendos, Gameboys and similar devices. They’re used to store certain bits of programming. The ones in the earlier mentioned devices retain the programming needed for the booting process. In a computer, the BIOS is a PROM (Programmable ROM) chip, a type of ROM.

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Differences Between RAM and ROM

The first major difference between both RAM (Random Acess Memory) and ROM (Read-Only Memory) is in their capacity to store data. RAM is a form of volatile memory, which means that the data stored in it is always temporary. It’s lost once the computer loses power. On the other hand, ROM is non-volatile, where it can store data indefinitely, even if the power is out.

Let’s talk about the BIOS as an example for ROM. It doesn’t store your media files or anything similar. But, it contains a programming consistent of the computer’s time and its vital settings, like the clock speed of the CPU and motherboard configurations. It’s essentially what the computer uses to know how to boot up, while the RAM starts storing data after the computer has booted up to keep it running.

ROM isn’t modifiable either, as the system can’t write data on it, as it can with RAM. The former isn’t directly accessible either. Whereas the computer can directly access the RAM data, it can’t do so for the ROM. The data in it needs to be loaded into the RAM before the processor can interact with it. As such, the access speed of RAM is significantly higher. This is why the ROM has no potential to speed up the main processor.

The size of each and the way they integrate into the computer is also a significant difference. The ROM chip is always much smaller than the RAM one, even if both have the same capacity. About the integration part, the RAM is easier to move around than the ROM.

The ROM chip is essentially a permanent part of the computer, as the system relies on the ROM to keep the main hardware components run in harmony with one another. Meanwhile, the RAM is mostly affected by the software and doesn’t have as much impact hardware-wise. You can remove it from its slot and not experience any loss of data, and you can still run the computer effectively if you have at least one supported RAM stick in your computer.

Another thing to note is that both have significantly different storage capacities. RAM can be as small as 512 MBs and go all the way upto 256 GBs. ROM doesn’t go higher than 8 MBs per chip.

Lastly, a less significant but still notable difference is that the ROM does not need any constant refreshes due to being a static memory.

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Here’s a table summarising all the significant differences of each:

RAM is easily replaceable.ROM is more permanent.
RAM is used to run the computer.ROM is used to start up the computer.
RAM can be both read and written to.ROM can only be read.
RAM is rectangular and bigger in size than ROM.ROM is always smaller than RAM, regardless of capacity.
RAM has a significantly higher max storage capacity.ROM has much smaller max storage capacity.

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RAM vs ROM – Frequently asked questions

1. Is there a limit to how much RAM I can have on my computer?

On a larger scale, there isn’t really a limit on the amount of RAM a user can add to a computer. A lot of good computers can have RAM as high as 256 GB, while computer systems used as servers can even go up to 24 TBs of RAM.

However, on an average computer, there usually is a limitation in place due to the hardware. For instance, a low-end laptop can only have a maximum of 8 GB RAM, while some allow expansion onto higher amounts of RAM. The limitations are usually caused by the hardware not supporting newer RAM technologies.

To have a RAM as high as 256 GB, you’d need to get a computer that uses an AMD Threadripper or Intel Extreme Edition processor.

If you do have a relatively new processor though, then you can upgrade your computer RAM to a maximum of 128 GB.


2. Do I need to choose my ROM capacity when I buy a computer?

No, you don’t. As there is no true impact on the computer’s actual performance, ROM doesn’t need to be a specific size anyway. Based on how powerful the hardware support will be, the manufacturer will pick the right ROM to go with the motherboard, and that will be more than adequate for the user.


3. What are the most common types of RAM and ROM?

The most common RAMs are DRAMs, SRAMs, SDRAMs, and DDR RAMs. On the ROM side, there are EPROMs, EEPROMs, PROMs and Mask Roms.


4. Between RAM and ROM, which one has a more substantial impact on performance?

ROM is just a place where small but vital data is stored. The speed at which the data is accessed is practically the same for every ROM chip. The difference in boot-up speeds comes from the rest of the hardware, specifically the main storage where the OS files are stored. If you need faster boot-up speeds, you need to consider getting an SSD. You’ll be sacrificing storage capacity if you go for an SSD, though. So you need to decide if you want to get an SSD or HDD.


5. Why can smartphones write data to their ROMs?

You’ve probably seen people throw around the term “ROM” when it comes to smartphone storage. But, if ROM means Read-Only Memory, then how can the phone write data to its memory? Well, the name is only half accurate.

It’s used a short name for Internal Storage. The ROM isn’t the actual storage, though. It’s the part of the storage that contains OS files of the smartphone that can’t be edited. That’s still not enough reason for that part to be considered a ROM.

An experienced superuser can interact with and even override the so-called Read-Only Memory. A true ROM usually has data physically fused into the chip, making it inaccessible to any user. That’s the kind of ROM used in computers and other devices that don’t use the term “ROM” to denote their storage.

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There isn’t much to say about RAM and ROM’s differences, but what differences they do have are quite significant. Our article should help you get a clearer understanding of both. If you’re purchasing a computer, you don’t have to worry about both the RAM and ROM. You can just choose the former according to your needs.

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