The Role of Memory in Your Computer

A computer is made up of three main components, the central processing unit (CPU), the hard drive, and random access memory (RAM).

To understand the function of each component, let's think back to pre-computer days when your workspace consisted of just you, your desk, and your filing cabinet.

Now, think of your computer in those same terms. You are the CPU. You decide what you are going to work on and how hard you're going to work. Your file cabinet is your hard drive. It's where you store all the stuff you may not need every day, but important stuff that you want access to at any given moment. And your desk is the RAM, the memory. If your desk is small, you can only work on a few things at a time. If you want to work on something new, first you'll have to take something off your desk and file it away to make room.

Let's take the analogy a step further and apply it to your productivity. What happens if suddenly you become a much faster worker (you get a faster CPU)? You shuffle through your work quickly, but your desk (memory) is still small. You'd likely spend a good deal of time putting stuff away just to make room for your next task. Chances are, the time you've gained being a faster worker will be eaten up by moving stuff around just to make room for more work. So, what if you get a bigger file cabinet (hard drive)? True, you'll have a place to put lots more stuff, but it really won't save you any time.

Now, what about that desk? Say your desk can only hold three pieces of paper at a time. Before you can work on a fourth, you have to decide which piece you don't want, and then take the time to file it away before you can work on the new one. And what if you don't want to move anything off your desk? You want to keep it handy for later. Wouldn't it be easier and faster just to put the new item on your desk with the other three, so you can work on each as you need to? That's what a bigger desk — more memory — gives you. No matter how fast you work, no matter how big your filing cabinet, the best way to save time is to get a bigger desk.

Apply the analogy directly to your computer components and you get the same conclusion. No matter how fast your computer's CPU is, and no matter how much storage your hard drive boasts, the best way to improve your computer's performance and speed is to add more memory.

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