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Fundamentals of Processor and Computer Memory explained in details

Hello, I will be your tutor today on the fundamentals of Processor and Computer Memory. I will take a little moment to take you through the basic concepts and how best to understand how Processors and Computer Memory work in a computing system.

Before you move into knowing the fundamentals of Processor and Computer Memory and how they are used and how helpful they are in our daily computational works, I will take a little moment to encourage you to go through the explanatory guide to Computer Application Software Packages we earlier discussed. This will facilitate your learning pace in this article.

Processor and Computer Memory Explained
Processor and Computer Memory Explained

Microprocessor is the brain of computer, which does all the work. It is a computer processor that incorporates all the functions of CPU (Central Processing Unit) on a single IC (Integrated Circuit) or at the most a few ICs.

Computer Processor
Computer Processor

Microprocessors were first introduced in early 1970s. 4004 was the first general purpose microprocessor used by Intel in building personal computers. Arrival of low cost general purpose microprocessors has been instrumental in development of modern society the way it has.

The processor, also known as the CPU, provides the instructions and processing power the computer needs to do its work. The more powerful and updated your processor, the faster your computer can complete its tasks. By getting a more powerful processor, you can help your computer think and work faster.

Computer Memory

Memory is required in computers to store data and instructions. Memory is physically organized as a large number of cells that are capable of storing one bit each. Logically they are organized as groups of bits called words that are assigned an address. Data and instructions are accessed through these memory address. The speed with which these memory addresses can be accessed determines the cost of the memory. Faster the memory speed, higher the price.

Computer Memory
Computer Memory

Computer memory can be said to be organized in a hierarchical way where memory with the fastest access speeds and highest costs lies at the top whereas those with lowest speeds and hence lowest costs lie at the bottom. Based on this criteria memory is of two types – primary and secondary. Here we will look at primary memory in detail.

The main features of primary memory, which distinguish it from secondary memory are −

  • It is accessed directly by the processor
  • It is the fastest memory available
  • Each word is stored as well as
  • It is volatile, i.e. its contents are lost once power is switched off

As primary memory is expensive, technologies are developed to optimize its use. These are broad types of primary memory available.


RAM stands for Random Access Memory. The processor accesses all memory addresses directly, irrespective of word length, making storage and retrieval fast. RAM is the fastest memory available and hence most expensive. These two factors imply that RAM is available in very small quantities of up to 1GB. RAM is volatile but my be of any of these two types

DRAM (Dynamic RAM)

Each memory cell in a DRAM is made of one transistor and one capacitor, which store one bit of data. However, this cell starts losing its charge and hence data stored in less than thousandth of a second. So it needs to be refreshed thousand times a second, which takes up processor time. However, due to small size of each cell, one DRAM can have large number of cells. Primary memory of most of the personal computers is made of DRAM.


Each cell in SRAM is made of a flip flop that stores one bit. It retains its bit till the power supply is on and doesn’t need to be refreshed like DRAM. It also has shorter read-write cycles as compared to DRAM. SRAM is used in specialized applications.


ROM stands for Read Only Memory. As the name suggests, ROM can only be read by the processor. New data cannot be written into ROM. Data to be stored into ROM is written during the manufacturing phase itself. They contain data that does not need to be altered, like booting sequence of a computer or algorithmic tables for mathematical applications. ROM is slower and hence cheaper than RAM. It retains its data even when power is switched off, i.e. it is non-volatile. ROM cannot be altered the way RAM can be but technologies are available to program these types of ROMs.

Secondary Memory

If we need to store large amount of data or programs permanently, we need a cheaper and permanent memory. Such memory is called secondary memory. Here we will discuss secondary memory devices that can be used to store large amount of data, audio, video and multimedia files.

Characteristics of Secondary Memory

These are some characteristics of secondary memory, which distinguish it from primary memory −

  • It is non-volatile, i.e. it retains data when power is switched off
  • It is large capacities to the tune of terabytes
  • It is cheaper as compared to primary memory

Depending on whether secondary memory device is part of CPU or not, there are two types of secondary memory – fixed and removable.

Computer Hard Drive
Computer Hard Drive

Hard Disk Drive

Hard disk drive is made up of a series of circular disks called platters arranged one over the other almost ½ inches apart around a spindle. Disks are made of non-magnetic material like aluminum alloy and coated with 10-20 nm of magnetic material.

Standard diameter of these disks is 14 inches and they rotate with speeds varying from 4200 rpm (rotations per minute) for personal computers to 15000 rpm for servers. Data is stored by magnetizing or demagnetizing the magnetic coating. A magnetic reader arm is used to read data from and write data to the disks. A typical modern HDD has capacity in terabytes (TB).


Computer CD Drive
Computer CD Drive

CD Drive

CD stands for Compact Disk. CDs are circular disks that use optical rays, usually lasers, to read and write data. They are very cheap as you can get 700 MB of storage space for less than a dollar. CDs are inserted in CD drives built into CPU cabinet. They are portable as you can eject the drive, remove the CD and carry it with you. There are three types of CDs −

  • CD-ROM (Compact Disk – Read Only Memory) − The data on these CDs are recorded by the manufacturer. Proprietary Software, audio or video are released on CD-ROMs.
  • CD-R (Compact Disk – Recordable) − Data can be written by the user once on the CD-R. It cannot be deleted or modified later.
  • CD-RW (Compact Disk – Rewritable) − Data can be written and deleted on these optical disks again and again.

DVD Drive

DVD stands for Digital Video Display. DVD are optical devices that can store 15 times the data held by CDs. They are usually used to store rich multimedia files that need high storage capacity. DVDs also come in three varieties – read only, recordable and rewritable.

Computer Flash Drive
Computer Flash Drive

Flash Drive

Flash drive is a portable memory device that uses solid state memory rather than magnetic fields or lasers to record data. It uses a technology similar to RAM, except that it is nonvolatile. It is also called USB drive, key drive or flash memory.

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