Memories,. food for the EGO.

Manifestation of memories into self-esteem, honor, dignity and many other traits characterize the individual.  Obviously, memories are stored in the brain and scientist have identified, subdivided, labeled and compartmentalized the brain in many functional regions.  Computer memory like human memory manifests it presents in different ways to perform a variety of functions; and computer memory has been divided into partitions, subsystems and specialization. Although the memory in today's computers have not been programmed with personality traits, some PC systems do demonstrate personality disorders, particularly the one this article was written with.

There is an abundance of terms that have been used to describe or label computer memory functions, features and attributes. Some terms apply to the hardware technology, some terms apply to the packing of these chips and others apply to the memory usage or memory systems within the computer.  Collectively, all of these terms may be confusing and to help sort out and clarify these labels we will look at how these items have been applied to computer memory.  To simplify this task, the effort will be divided into the following 5 areas: packing, parity & ECC, buffered/non-buffered, systems and labels.


Just as memory technology has evolved so has memory packaging.  Shown below is a table of the different form factors (packaging) that has been used in memory deployment over the past 25 years.


Package Type


Commonly Found In























Dual In-line Package

Single In-line Memory Module

Single In-line Memory Module

Small Outline DIMM

Dual In-line Memory Module

Small Outline DIMM

Micro DIMM

Dual In-line Memory Module

Rambus In-line Memory Module

Dual In-line Memory Module

Small Outline DIMM

Early computers 8080, 8086

Early computers 386, 486

486, early Pentium

Laptop computers




Current desktops P2, P3, P4

Current desktops P3, P4

Current desktops P4

Laptop computers

Besides the pin count, other obvious marking will be the number and positioning of the notches along the bottom of the memory module. These notches help correctly orientate the proper RAM module or prevent the installation of an incorrect memory type by blocking any memory module that does not have the correct notch arrangement. The following images will help identify the packaging type.

16-20 pin DIP


30 pin SIMM


72 pin SIMM


72 pin SODIMM


100 pin DIMM / SODIMM


144 pin SODIMM



168 pin DIMM


184 pin RIMM


184 pin DIMM DDR


200 pin SODIMM


Parity and ECC (Error Correction Code) are different forms of data quality monitoring and error detection & correction. Initially, memory modules came in two types, parity and non-parity and later this evolved into ECC.

Non-parity memory contains one bit of memory for every bit of data to be stored. Normally there are 8 bits of data for each byte of memory. Non-parity memory provides no error detection capabilities at all.

Parity checking is a rudimentary method of detecting simple, single-bit errors. It was first used on the original IBM PC in 1981 and has been used in every PC until the early 1990s. Parity memory adds an extra bit for every eight bits of data; therefore 9 bits of data are used to store each byte.

When parity checking is enabled a logic circuit called a parity generator/checker examines each byte written to memory and determines whether the data byte has an even or an odd number of ones. If there is an even number of ones, the ninth (parity) bit is set to 1; otherwise if there is an odd number of ones then it is set to 0. The result is that no matter how many ones there were in the original eight data bits, there will be odd number of ones when you look at all nine bits together. This is called odd-parity and it is also possible to have even-parity, where the generator makes the sum come out even. The standard is odd parity. The following table shows an example of how odd-parity and even-parity work.


Sample byte with 8 data bits

# of '1s' in sample byte

Odd Parity

Even Parity



# of '1s' in sample byte with parity bit

Final sample stored with parity bit

Parity Bit

# of '1s' in sample byte with parity bit

Final sample stored  with parity bit





00000000 1



00000000 0





10110011 0



10110011 1





00100100 1



00100100 0





11111111 1



11111111 0








Parity checking is not perfect nor does it protect against double-bit errors. A double-bit error is where 2 bits in the same byte have changed. For example, say the data byte 00100100 is read and stored as "00100100 1" including the parity bit. Then let's say the byte is read back as "01100000 1". Here, there are two bits that have flipped, one of them from 1 to 0 and the other from 0 to 1. But the total number of 1s is still odd. Fortunately, the odds of encountering a single bit error are small and the odds of encountering a double-bit error are extremely rare.

ECC (Error Correction Code) was also known as Error Correcting Circuits or Error Correcting Code is an advanced error detection and correction protocol developed to overcome the shortcomings of parity memory. This protocol detects both single-bit and multi-bit errors and it will correct single-bit errors on the fly and flag the operating system of a multiple bit error.

ECC uses a special algorithm to encode information in a block of bits.  This block contains adequate detail information to recovery a single bit error. Instead of using 1 bit to protect an 8 bit word, ECC uses 7 bits to protect 32 bits of data or 8 bits to protect 64 bits of data.

ECC will work with standard parity memory modules as well.  Since parity DIMMs (Dual Inline Memory Module) are 72 bits wide this means that there is 1 bit for every 8 bits of data; thus, 64 bits of data has 8 bits available for parity that can be used by the ECC system. A parity SIMM (Single Inline Memory Module) is 36 bits wide, 32 bit for data and 4 bits for parity.  Thus, if two modules were used then you would have 2 x 32 = 64 bits of data and 2 x 4 = 8 parity bits that can be used by the ECC system.

The difference between the parity memory and ECC memory is that parity memory will work in both modes.  However, ECC memory only works in ECC mode. ECC modules contain one extra bit per byte like the parity memory; however, the extra bites cannot be individually accessed which is required for parity operation.


Most of the specifications related to memory type depend on the system board design. This is also the case with Buffered and Non-Buffered DIMM. A buffer is a driver. Some system boards include drivers for the memory control signals, while others rely on the memory module to drive its own memory control signals. A buffered module has drivers on it; a non-buffered module does not. A system that requires buffered modules will not function with a non-buffered module and vise versa

When a computer first boots one of the initializations tasks is POST (Power On Self Test). During this process the computer detects all of the attached hardware, like processor, RAM, keyboard, mouse and many other components.  With DIMM ram it needs to detect the configuration of the memory module in order to properly interface with it.  On a buffered DIMM, there is a small EPROM called SPD (Serial Presence Detect) that stores information abut the module.  The computer reads this information and will know what kind of RAM is installed and how to interface with it.


Memory is not storage; although data stored on a disk can be stored in memory.

Storage is not memory; although data in memory can be stored on a disk.

Memory can be storage if the data is stored in a Read Only Memory (ROM)

In the early days of computer development the above distinction was not as clear as it is today. Over the years the data stream between the processor and storage has lengthen considerably.  Now instead of going straight from storage to processor it is not uncommon for data to go through several memory holding locations.  The data flow in today's computers may go from the hard drive to a hard drive cache, then to main memory, then to L2 cache, then to L1 cache, then to CPU registers where it would be evaluated or executed-on by the processor and then end up in a video memory or possibly a printer or modem buffer or even back to the hard drive. All of these are memory systems and the following will describe their application.

Hard Drive Cache is a small cache integrated into the hard drive circuitry that provides a data buffer between the operating system data read/write requests. The cache helps prevents the overflow of data to or from the operating system. Main Memory is the primary RAM of a computer. This is where all programs and data are loaded when a software application is launched provided the RAM size is adequate to hold all of the data. Obviously, RAM is much faster than a hard driver therefore; RAM serves as a fast data pool for the processor. L3 Cache is extra cache that sits on the system board between the processor and main memory for processors that already contain L1 and L2 cache. L3 performs the same function as L2 cache except in a higher volume capacity.

L2 Cache is a smaller amount of SRAM than L3 and is located between the L1 cache and L3 cache or main memory.  L2 cache has the same purpose as L1 cache and depending on the processor it may or may not integrated into the processor die.  L1 Cache is a smaller amount of SRAM memory used as a cache that is integrated or packaged within the same module as the processor. It is located between the CPU registers and the L2 cache. The L1 cache is clocked at the same speed of the processor and provides very fast access to the most recently used data. L1 cache is used to temporarily store instructions and data, making sure the processor has a steady supply of data to process while the main memory fetches and makes available new data. The L1 cache checks the L2 cache before going to main memory.

CPU Register is a very small amount of memory located between the L1 cache and the ALU (Arithmetic Logic Unit) or the CU (Control Unit) of the processor.  The register holds the individual bytes of data that are required for the ALU execution.

There are a couple more memory systems with indirect flow of data to the processor.  One major system is hardware BIOS (Basis Input Output System) which is a flash ROM or EEPROM chip that contains all program instructions for the operating system to access the respective hardware features. BIOS is found on a system board, video card, audio card, SCSI card, network card, hard drives, zip drives and CD/DVD drives and any other card plugged or connected into the motherboard.  You will also have, but may not notice the BIOS for your modem, printer, keyboard, video camera, scanner or any other hardware that is plugged into you system particularly if it is PNP (Plug and Play) compliant.

CMOS Memory (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) also known as CMOS RAM is where personal system board settings are retained. Originally, CMOS held the type of hard drive that was connected to the motherboard so the system would not have to re-detect it every time it was booted.  As system boards and peripheral equipment become more advanced the CMOS has grown in size and has become the home for all personalized system board setting.

Virtual memory is the page file system (swap file) which is located on the hard drive.  This is a temporary holding location of data that is paged from the RAM to the hard drive. When the operating system is shut down this data is lost.

Tag memory, TAG memory acts as an index for the information stored in L2 cache. It is usually composed of SRAM.

Video Memory is where the data bytes are located that are used to update the screen image by way of the RAMDAC (Random Access Memory Digital Analog Converter).

Printer or Modem buffer is a small cache integrated into the circuitry that provides a data buffer between the system read/write data requests. The cache helps prevents the overflow of data to or from the system.


 There are a couple of data labels that need to be addressed and the following data labels only apply to the main memory of the computer. Conventional Memory and Upper Memory subdivide the first 1 meg of memory.  Expanded Memory and Extended Memory apply to any memory above the first 1 meg.  Finally, Upper Memory is a small segment of memory above the first 1 meg.

Conventional Memory is the first 640 Kilobytes of main memory.  This is where most all DOS programs run.

Upper Memory is the 384 Kilobytes of main memory immediately above the 640 Kilobytes.

Expanded Memory is all memory above the first 1 meg that is addressable by 8086 and 8088 processors.

Extended Memory is all memory above the first 1 meg that is addressable by 80286 and greater processors.

High Memory is the first 64 Kilobytes of Extended Memory.


In part 3 of this series we will look at current R&D memory technology and examine some of the technologies that may create the next generation of memory modules.  An addendum, (Part 4) will be added to this series dedicated exclusively to memory sizing and performance.


  1. Glossary of Memory Terms
  2. Computer Memory, .

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