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Volatile Memory

Volatile memory is memory that requires electric current to retain data. When the power is turned off, all data is erased. Volatile memory is often contrasted with non-volatile memory, which does not require power to maintain the data storage state.

The most common type of volatile memory is random-access memory, or RAM. Computers and other electronic devices use RAM for high-speed data access. The read/write speed of RAM is typically several times faster than a mass storage device, such as a hard disk or SSD. When a computer boots up, it loads the operating system into RAM. Similarly, when you open an application on your computer or mobile device, it is loaded into RAM. Loading the operating system and active applications into RAM allows them to run much faster.

Since RAM is volatile memory, all data stored in RAM is lost when the host device is turned off or restarted. The operating system must be loaded into RAM again when the device is turned on. While this requires extra processing time during startup, the "reset" that non-volatile memory provides is an effective way to remove lingering issues that may occur while a computer is running. This is why restarting a computer or electronic device is an effective way to fix common problems.

System RAM is the most common type of volatile memory, but several other types exist. Below are some examples of volatile memory:

  1. System RAM (DRAM)
  2. Video RAM (VRAM)
  3. Processor L1 and L2 cache
  4. HDD and SSD disk cache

NOTE: The "volatile" aspect of the term "volatile memory" refers to how data is lost when the power is turned off. It does not refer to the voltage required to maintain the data.

Updated: October 18, 2019

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