Semiconductor memory

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Semiconductor memory is a digital electronic data storage device, often used as computer memory, implemented with semiconductor electronic devices on an integrated circuit (IC). There are many different types of implementations using various technologies.

Digital electronics Electronic circuits that utilize digital signals

Digital electronics or digital (electronic) circuits are electronics that operate on digital signals. In contrast, analog circuits manipulate analog signals whose performance is more subject to manufacturing tolerance, signal attenuation and noise. Digital techniques are helpful because it is a lot easier to get an electronic device to switch into one of a number of known states than to accurately reproduce a continuous range of values.

Data storage hardware for recording data

Data storage is the recording (storing) of information (data) in a storage medium. DNA and RNA, handwriting, phonographic recording, magnetic tape, and optical discs are all examples of storage media. Recording is accomplished by virtually any form of energy. Electronic data storage requires electrical power to store and retrieve data.

Computer memory physical device used to store programs or data for use in a digital electronic device; computer hardware device used to store information for immediate use in a computer

In computing, memory refers to the computer hardware integrated circuits that store information for immediate use in a computer; it is synonymous with the term "primary storage". Computer memory operates at a high speed, for example random-access memory (RAM), as a distinction from storage that provides slow-to-access information but offers higher capacities. If needed, contents of the computer memory can be transferred to secondary storage; a very common way of doing this is through a memory management technique called "virtual memory". An archaic synonym for memory is store.


Most types of semiconductor memory have the property of random access, [1] which means that it takes the same amount of time to access any memory location, so data can be efficiently accessed in any random order. [2] This contrasts with data storage media such as hard disks and CDs which read and write data consecutively and therefore the data can only be accessed in the same sequence it was written. Semiconductor memory also has much faster access times than other types of data storage; a byte of data can be written to or read from semiconductor memory within a few nanoseconds, while access time for rotating storage such as hard disks is in the range of milliseconds. For these reasons it is used for main computer memory (primary storage), to hold data the computer is currently working on, among other uses.

Access time is the time delay or latency between a request to an electronic system, and the access being completed or the requested data returned

The byte is a unit of digital information that most commonly consists of eight bits, representing a binary number. Historically, the byte was the number of bits used to encode a single character of text in a computer and for this reason it is the smallest addressable unit of memory in many computer architectures.

A nanosecond (ns) is an SI unit of time equal to one thousand-millionth of a second, that is, 1/1,000,000,000 of a second, or 10−9 seconds.

Shift registers, processor registers, data buffers and other small digital registers that have no memory address decoding mechanism are not considered as memory although they also store digital data.

In digital circuits, a shift register is a cascade of flip flops, sharing the same clock, in which the output of each flip-flop is connected to the 'data' input of the next flip-flop in the chain, resulting in a circuit that shifts by one position the 'bit array' stored in it, 'shifting in' the data present at its input and 'shifting out' the last bit in the array, at each transition of the clock input.

In computer architecture, a processor register is a quickly accessible location available to a computer's central processing unit (CPU). Registers usually consist of a small amount of fast storage, although some registers have specific hardware functions, and may be read-only or write-only. Registers are typically addressed by mechanisms other than main memory, but may in some cases be assigned a memory address e.g. DEC PDP-10, ICT 1900.

In computer science, a data buffer is a region of a physical memory storage used to temporarily store data while it is being moved from one place to another. Typically, the data is stored in a buffer as it is retrieved from an input device or just before it is sent to an output device. However, a buffer may be used when moving data between processes within a computer. This is comparable to buffers in telecommunication. Buffers can be implemented in a fixed memory location in hardware—or by using a virtual data buffer in software, pointing at a location in the physical memory. In all cases, the data stored in a data buffer are stored on a physical storage medium. A majority of buffers are implemented in software, which typically use the faster RAM to store temporary data, due to the much faster access time compared with hard disk drives. Buffers are typically used when there is a difference between the rate at which data is received and the rate at which it can be processed, or in the case that these rates are variable, for example in a printer spooler or in online video streaming.


In a semiconductor memory chip, each bit of binary data is stored in a tiny circuit called a memory cell consisting of one to several transistors. The memory cells are laid out in rectangular arrays on the surface of the chip. The 1-bit memory cells are grouped in small units called words which are accessed together as a single memory address. Memory is manufactured in word length that is usually a power of two, typically N=1, 2, 4 or 8 bits.

The memory cell is the fundamental building block of computer memory. The memory cell is an electronic circuit that stores one bit of binary information and it must be set to store a logic 1 and reset to store a logic 0. Its value is maintained/stored until it is changed by the set/reset process. The value in the memory cell can be accessed by reading it.

Transistor semiconductor device used to amplify and switch electronic signals and electrical power

A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify or switch electronic signals and electrical power. It is composed of semiconductor material usually with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals controls the current through another pair of terminals. Because the controlled (output) power can be higher than the controlling (input) power, a transistor can amplify a signal. Today, some transistors are packaged individually, but many more are found embedded in integrated circuits.

Data is accessed by means of a binary number called a memory address applied to the chip's address pins, which specifies which word in the chip is to be accessed. If the memory address consists of M bits, the number of addresses on the chip is 2M, each containing an N bit word. Consequently, the amount of data stored in each chip is N2M bits. [2] The memory storage capacity for M number of address lines is given by 2M, which is usually in power of two: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256 and 512 and measured in kibibits, mebibits, gibibits or tebibits, etc. As of 2014 the largest semiconductor memory chips hold a few gibibits of data, but higher capacity memory is constantly being developed. By combining several integrated circuits, memory can be arranged into a larger word length and/or address space than what is offered by each chip, often but not necessarily a power of two. [2]

In computing, a memory address is a reference to a specific memory location used at various levels by software and hardware. Memory addresses are fixed-length sequences of digits conventionally displayed and manipulated as unsigned integers. Such numerical semantic bases itself upon features of CPU, as well upon use of the memory like an array endorsed by various programming languages.

The kibibit is a multiple of the bit, a unit of digital information storage, using the standard binary prefix kibi, which has the symbol Ki, meaning 210. The unit symbol of the kibibit is Kibit.

The mebibit is a multiple of the bit, a unit of information, prefixed by the standards-based multiplier "mebi" (symbol Mi), a binary prefix meaning 220. The unit symbol of the mebibit is Mibit.

The two basic operations performed by a memory chip are "read", in which the data contents of a memory word is read out (nondestructively), and "write" in which data is stored in a memory word, replacing any data that was previously stored there. To increase data rate, in some of the latest types of memory chips such as DDR SDRAM multiple words are accessed with each read or write operation.


Double Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic Random-Access Memory, officially abbreviated as DDR SDRAM, is a double data rate synchronous dynamic random-access memory class of memory integrated circuits used in computers. DDR SDRAM, also retroactively called DDR1 SDRAM, has been superseded by DDR2 SDRAM, DDR3 SDRAM and DDR4 SDRAM. None of its successors are forward or backward compatible with DDR1 SDRAM, meaning DDR2, DDR3, and DDR4 memory modules will not work in DDR1-equipped motherboards, and vice versa.

In addition to standalone memory chips, blocks of semiconductor memory are integral parts of many computer and data processing integrated circuits. For example, the microprocessor chips that run computers contain cache memory to store instructions awaiting execution.


RAM chips for computers usually come on removable memory modules like these. Additional memory can be added to the computer by plugging in additional modules. RAM n.png
RAM chips for computers usually come on removable memory modules like these. Additional memory can be added to the computer by plugging in additional modules.

RAM ( Random-access memory ) has become a generic term for any semiconductor memory that can be written to, as well as read from, in contrast to ROM (below), which can only be read. All semiconductor memory, not just RAM, has the property of random access.

Volatile memory loses its stored data when the power to the memory chip is turned off. However it can be faster and less expensive than non-volatile memory. This type is used for the main memory in most computers, since data is stored on the hard disk while the computer is off. Major types are: [3] [4]

Nonvolatile memory preserves the data stored in it during periods when the power to the chip is turned off. Therefore, it is used for the memory in portable devices, which don't have disks, and for removable memory cards among other uses. Major types are: [3] [4]

Related Research Articles

Computer data storage technology consisting of computer components and recording media used to retain digital data

Computer data storage, often called storage or memory, is a technology consisting of computer components and recording media that are used to retain digital data. It is a core function and fundamental component of computers.

Static random-access memory Semiconductor memory

Static random-access memory is a type of semiconductor memory that uses bistable latching circuitry (flip-flop) to store each bit. SRAM exhibits data remanence, but it is still volatile in the conventional sense that data is eventually lost when the memory is not powered.

Dynamic random-access memory random-access memory that stores each bit of data in a separate capacitor within an integrated circuit

Dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) is a type of random access semiconductor memory that stores each bit of data in a separate tiny capacitor within an integrated circuit. The capacitor can either be charged or discharged; these two states are taken to represent the two values of a bit, conventionally called 0 and 1. The electric charge on the capacitors slowly leaks off, so without intervention the data on the chip would soon be lost. To prevent this, DRAM requires an external memory refresh circuit which periodically rewrites the data in the capacitors, restoring them to their original charge. This refresh process is the defining characteristic of dynamic random-access memory, in contrast to static random-access memory (SRAM) which does not require data to be refreshed. Unlike flash memory, DRAM is volatile memory, since it loses its data quickly when power is removed. However, DRAM does exhibit limited data remanence.

Synchronous dynamic random-access memory (SDRAM) is any dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) where the operation of its external pin interface is coordinated by an externally supplied clock signal. DRAM integrated circuits (ICs) produced from the early 1970s to mid-1990s used an asynchronous interface, in which input control signals have a direct effect on internal functions only delayed by the trip across its semiconductor pathways. SDRAM has a synchronous interface, whereby changes on control inputs are recognised after a rising edge of its clock input. In SDRAM families standardized by JEDEC, the clock signal controls the stepping of an internal finite state machine that responds to incoming commands. These commands can be pipelined to improve performance, with previously started operations completing while new commands are received. The memory is divided into several equally sized but independent sections called banks, allowing the device to operate on a memory access command in each bank simultaneously and speed up access in an interleaved fashion. This allows SDRAMs to achieve greater concurrency and higher data transfer rates than asynchronous DRAMs could.

DIMM computer memory module that have separate electrical contacts on each side of the module and a 64-bit data path

A DIMM or dual in-line memory module comprises a series of dynamic random-access memory integrated circuits. These modules are mounted on a printed circuit board and designed for use in personal computers, workstations and servers. DIMMs began to replace SIMMs as the predominant type of memory module as Intel P5-based Pentium processors began to gain market share.


Double Data Rate 2 Synchronous Dynamic Random-Access Memory, officially abbreviated as DDR2 SDRAM, is a double data rate synchronous dynamic random-access memory interface. It superseded the original DDR SDRAM specification, and is superseded by DDR3 SDRAM. DDR2 DIMMs are neither forward compatible with DDR3 nor backward compatible with DDR.

Non-volatile memory (NVM) or non-volatile storage is a type of computer memory that can retrieve stored information even after having been power cycled. In contrast, volatile memory needs constant power in order to retain data. Examples of non-volatile memory include read-only memory, flash memory, ferroelectric RAM, most types of magnetic computer storage devices, optical discs, and early computer storage methods such as paper tape and punched cards.

Double data rate

In computing, a computer bus operating with double data rate (DDR) transfers data on both the rising and falling edges of the clock signal. This is also known as double pumped, dual-pumped, and double transition. The term toggle mode is used in the context of NAND flash memory.

Column Access Strobe (CAS) latency, or CL, is the delay time between the moment a memory controller tells the memory module to access a particular memory column on a RAM module, and the moment the data from the given array location is available on the module's output pins.

Memory refresh is the process of periodically reading information from an area of computer memory and immediately rewriting the read information to the same area without modification, for the purpose of preserving the information. Memory refresh is a background maintenance process required during the operation of semiconductor dynamic random-access memory (DRAM), the most widely used type of computer memory, and in fact is the defining characteristic of this class of memory.

The memory controller is a digital circuit that manages the flow of data going to and from the computer's main memory. A memory controller can be a separate chip or integrated into another chip, such as being placed on the same die or as an integral part of a microprocessor; in the latter case, it is usually called an integrated memory controller (IMC). A memory controller is sometimes also called a memory chip controller (MCC) or a memory controller unit (MCU).

Memory module

In computing, a memory module is a printed circuit board on which memory integrated circuits are mounted. Memory modules permit easy installation and replacement in electronic systems, especially computers such as personal computers, workstations, and servers. The first memory modules were proprietary designs that were specific to a model of computer from a specific manufacturer. Later, memory modules were standardized by organizations such as JEDEC and could be used in any system designed to use them.

Read-only memory non-volatile memory used in computers and other electronic devices; class of storage medium used in computers and other electronic devices

Read-only memory (ROM) is a type of non-volatile memory used in computers and other electronic devices. Data stored in ROM can only be modified slowly, with difficulty, or not at all, so it is mainly used to store firmware or application software in plug-in cartridges.

Double Data Rate 4 Synchronous Dynamic Random-Access Memory, officially abbreviated as DDR4 SDRAM, is a type of synchronous dynamic random-access memory with a high bandwidth interface.

Random-access memory form of computer data storage

Random-access memory is a form of computer data storage that stores data and machine code currently being used. A random-access memory device allows data items to be read or written in almost the same amount of time irrespective of the physical location of data inside the memory. In contrast, with other direct-access data storage media such as hard disks, CD-RWs, DVD-RWs and the older magnetic tapes and drum memory, the time required to read and write data items varies significantly depending on their physical locations on the recording medium, due to mechanical limitations such as media rotation speeds and arm movement.


Low-Power Double Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory, commonly abbreviated as Low-Power DDR SDRAM or LPDDR SDRAM, is a type of double data rate synchronous dynamic random-access memory that consumes less power and is targeted for mobile computers. It is also known as Mobile DDR, and abbreviated as mDDR.

This is a glossary of terms relating to computer hardware – physical computer hardware, architectural issues, and peripherals.


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