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Специальности: Программист
Лекция 37:

How Computer Memory Works

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2.1. Read the text

How Computer Memory Works


Although memory is technically any form of electronic storage, it is used most often to identify fast, temporary forms of storage.

Whether it comes from permanent storage (the hard drive) or input (the keyboard), most data goes in random access memory (RAM) first. The CPU then stores pieces of data it will need to access, often in a cache, and maintains certain special instructions in the register.

From the moment you turn your computer on until the time you shut it down, your CPU is constantly using memory:

  • You turn the computer on.
  • The computer loads data from read-only memory (ROM) and performs a power-on self-test (POST) to make sure all the major components are functioning properly. As part of this test, the memory controller checks all of the memory addresses with a quick read/write operation to ensure that there are no errors in the memory chips. Read/write means that data is written to a bit and then read from that bit.
  • The computer loads the basic input/output system (BIOS) from ROM. The BIOS provides the most basic information about storage devices, boot sequence, security, Plug and Play (auto device recognition) capability and a few other items.
  • The computer loads the operating system (OS) from the hard drive into the system's RAM. Generally, the critical parts of the operating system are maintained in RAM as long as the computer is on. This allows the CPU to have immediate access to the operating system, which enhances the performance and functionality of the overall system.
  • When you open an application, it is loaded into RAM.
  • After an application is loaded, any files that are opened for use in that application are loaded into RAM.
  • When you save a file and close the application, the file is written to the specified storage device, and then it and the application are purged from RAM.

In the list above, every time something is loaded or opened, it is placed into RAM. This simply means that it has been put in the computer's temporary storage area so that the CPU can access that information more easily. The CPU requests the data it needs from RAM, processes it and writes new data back to RAM in a continuous cycle. In most computers, this shuffling of data between the CPU and RAM happens millions of times every second. When an application is closed, it and any accompanying files are usually deleted from RAM to make room for new data. If the changed files are not saved to a permanent storage device before being purged, they are lost.

Fast, powerful CPUs need quick and easy access to large amounts of data in order to maximize their performance. Modern CPUs running at speeds of about 1 gigahertz can consume massive amounts of data -- potentially billions of bytes per second. The problem that computer designers face is that memory that can keep up with a 1-gigahertz CPU is extremely expensive -- much more expensive than anyone can afford in large quantities.

Computer designers have solved the cost problem by using expensive memory in small quantities and then backing it up with larger quantities of less expensive memory.

The cheapest form of read/write memory in wide use today is the hard disk. Hard disks provide large quantities of inexpensive, permanent storage.

The next level of the hierarchy is RAM. The bit size of a CPU tells you how many bytes of information it can access from RAM at the same time. For example, a 16-bit CPU can process 2 bytes at a time (1 byte = 8 bits, so 16 bits = 2 bytes), and a 64-bit CPU can process 8 bytes at a time. A computer's system RAM alone is not fast enough to match the speed of the CPU. That is why you need a cache.

Caches are designed to make the data used most often by the CPU instantly available. This is accomplished by building a small amount of memory, known as primary or level 1 cache, right into the CPU. Level 1 cache is very small, normally ranging between 2 kilobytes (KB) and 64 KB. The secondary or level 2 cache typically resides on a memory card located near the CPU. The level 2 cache has a direct connection to the CPU. In most systems, data needed by the CPU is accessed from the cache approximately 95 percent of the time, greatly reducing the overhead needed when the CPU has to wait for data from the main memory.

Memory can be split into two main categories: volatile and nonvolatile. Volatile memory loses any data as soon as the system is turned off; it requires constant power to remain viable. Most types of RAM fall into this category.

Nonvolatile memory does not lose its data when the system or device is turned off. A number of types of memory fall into this category. The most familiar is ROM, but Flash memory storage devices such as CompactFlash or SmartMedia cards are also forms of nonvolatile memory.

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Сауле Бельгинова
Сауле Бельгинова
Альмира Мукашева
Альмира Мукашева

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