What Is DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory)?

April 25, 2024

Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) is a fundamental component of computing, serving as the cornerstone of data storage for a wide array of electronic devices. Understanding DRAM is essential for grasping how modern electronics manage, store, and access data efficiently.

What Is DRAM?

Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) is a type of volatile memory used in computing devices to store data and machine code currently in use. DRAM is termed "dynamic" because it needs to be periodically refreshed with an electrical charge to retain the stored information, unlike static RAM (SRAM), which does not require such refresh cycles.

DRAM is widely used because of its structural simplicity and cost-effectiveness per bit compared to SRAM. This makes DRAM suitable for modern computing systems, which require high memory capacity. However, the need for frequent refresh cycles and slower access speeds compared to SRAM are notable drawbacks.

DRAM is the prevalent choice for system memory in most computing devices, including personal computers, servers, and mobile devices, owing to its balance of cost, capacity, and speed.


Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) and Static Random Access Memory (SRAM) are both types of semiconductor memory used in computing devices, but they differ significantly in structure, performance, and use-case scenarios.

DRAM is made up of memory cells consisting of one transistor and one capacitor. This design is simpler and allows for higher memory densities, making DRAM more cost-effective for providing larger amounts of memory. However, the capacitors in DRAM need regular refreshing to maintain their charge, which leads to increased power consumption and slower access times compared to SRAM.

SRAM, on the other hand, uses a more complex cell structure, typically comprising six transistors with no capacitors. This configuration does not require refreshing, which allows for faster access times and makes SRAM suitable for cache memory in processors where speed is crucial. While SRAM is faster and consumes less power when idle compared to DRAM, it is significantly more expensive per bit and has lower memory density. This makes SRAM less suited for applications where a large amount of memory is required. Consequently, SRAM is commonly used where speed is a priority, such as in CPU cache, while DRAM is used for main memory in computers and other devices where larger memory capacity is more critical.

Historical Overview of DRAM

Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) was first developed in the early 1960s, in response to the need for more efficient and cost-effective memory solutions in computing. The invention of DRAM is often credited to Dr. Robert Dennard of IBM, who patented the technology in 1968. His design simplified the memory cell structure to a single transistor and capacitor, enabling the production of higher density memory at lower costs.

The first commercial DRAM, a 1 kilobit chip, was introduced by Intel in 1970, marking a significant milestone that set the standard for memory in computing. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, DRAM capacity grew exponentially, doubling approximately every two years. This growth enabled the expansion of personal computing and other electronic technologies by providing affordable and substantial memory resources.

As technology advanced into the 1990s and 2000s, DRAM continued to evolve, with improvements in speed, energy efficiency, and size. Manufacturers began integrating more sophisticated techniques such as synchronous DRAM (SDRAM) and later double data rate (DDR) technology, which further enhanced performance by increasing the rate of data transmission. Today, DRAM remains a fundamental component in nearly all computing systems, supporting a vast range of applications from massive servers to everyday consumer electronics.

DRAM Characteristics

Dynamic Random Access Memory has several key characteristics that define its performance and suitability for various applications in computing devices:

  • Volatility. DRAM is a volatile type of memory, which means that it loses the data it holds when the power supply is turned off. This characteristic is typical of many types of RAM used in computers and other electronic devices where temporary data storage is required during active operations.
  • Density. DRAM cells consist of a single transistor and a capacitor, allowing for a high density of memory cells on a chip. This design makes DRAM much more compact and enables it to provide greater storage capacity at a lower cost compared to SRAM, which uses multiple transistors per memory cell.
  • Speed. While DRAM is slower than SRAM, it is considerably faster than other types of storage like hard drives or SSDs when it comes to read and write speeds. However, the need to refresh the information stored in the capacitors periodically does slow down its overall performance relative to SRAM.
  • Cost-effectiveness. Due to its simpler cell structure, DRAM is less expensive to manufacture than SRAM. This makes it economically viable to produce in large quantities, which is why DRAM is commonly used as the main system memory in PCs and servers.
  • High energy consumption. DRAM consumes more power during operation than SRAM due to the constant refreshing required to maintain data integrity. This refresh operation involves recharging the capacitors holding the data, which must occur thousands of times per second.
  • Refresh requirement. Each cell in a DRAM must be refreshed periodically, typically every few milliseconds, to retain the data. This is necessary because the capacitors leak charge over time. The refresh process can impact system performance as it consumes bandwidth that could otherwise be used for data access.

How Does DRAM Work?

The fundamental component of DRAM is the memory cell, which consists of a single capacitor and a transistor. The capacitor holds the bits of data in the form of electrical charge, whereas the transistor acts as a gate, controlling the read and write process of the capacitor. In a DRAM module, memory cells are organized in a grid of rows and columns, enabling quick access to any cell by specifying its row and column addresses.

The data in DRAM is accessed bit by bit along the row, known as a "word line," after which it is read or written column by column via the "bit line." Since the capacitors in DRAM leak charge over time, a periodic refresh operation is necessary to restore the charge and thus maintain the integrity of the data.

DRAM Speed

The speed of Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) is an essential factor in its performance and overall system efficiency. DRAM speed generally refers to the rate at which data can be read from or written to the memory cells. This speed is influenced by several factors, including the memory's clock cycle, the rate of data transfer enabled by the technology employed (like SDRAM, DDR, DDR2, etc.), and the time delays inherent in the memory design, such as latency. Latency measures the delay time between a command and its execution, and it significantly affects the throughput of DRAM.

In addition to the inherent delays, DRAM must also undergo periodic refresh cycles to maintain data integrity, which further impacts effective speed. Over the years, advancements in DRAM technology, such as the development of double data rate (DDR) technology, have effectively doubled the rate at which data can be processed per clock cycle, significantly boosting memory performance and making DRAM suitable for high-speed computing tasks.

Types of DRAM

Here is a list of various types of Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM):

  • SDRAM (Synchronous DRAM). This type of DRAM operates in sync with the system clock. SDRAM waits for the clock signal before responding to input commands, which leads to a decrease in the wait states and an increase in overall performance compared to traditional DRAM.
  • DDR (Double Data Rate SDRAM). DDR improves upon the base SDRAM by transferring data on both the rising and falling edges of the clock signal, effectively doubling the data rate of the memory. DDR memory is commonly used in computers and has undergone several iterations, such as DDR2, DDR3, and DDR4, each improving speed, power consumption, and data transfer rates.
  • RDRAM (Rambus DRAM). Developed by Rambus Inc., RDRAM uses a proprietary bus design to increase the width of data transfer and reduce latency. This type was once favored in performance-intensive applications but has become less common due to high production costs and licensing fees.
  • FPM DRAM (Fast Page Mode DRAM). An earlier form of DRAM, FPM improves access speed by keeping the row address constant across multiple reads and writes. This mode speeds up operations when multiple accesses to memory are made consecutively to the same row of the memory matrix.
  • EDO DRAM (Extended Data Output DRAM). EDO DRAM allows a new access operation to start while keeping the data output of the previous cycle active. This overlap reduces the latency between memory cycles, speeding up the performance slightly over FPM DRAM.
  • VRAM (Video RAM). Specially designed for graphics-intensive applications, VRAM is dual-ported memory that allows simultaneous read and write operations. This capability makes it particularly useful for systems where large, rapid image manipulations are common, such as in high-end video editing or gaming systems.

DRAM Advantages and Disadvantages

Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) is a crucial component in computing systems, offering several advantages but also facing certain limitations. Here’s an overview of both the advantages and disadvantages.


Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) offers several advantages that make it a popular choice for system memory in many computing devices, including:

  • High density. DRAM's simple cell structure, consisting of one transistor and one capacitor, allows for higher-density memory chips. This means more memory capacity can be packed into a smaller physical space, making DRAM an excellent choice for systems requiring large amounts of RAM.
  • Cost-effectiveness. The simplicity of DRAM's design also translates into lower production costs compared to other types of RAM, such as SRAM. This makes DRAM a more economical option for achieving high memory capacities, which is particularly beneficial for consumer electronics and entry-level to mid-range computing systems.
  • Scalability. DRAM technologies, such as DDR, have evolved to offer various performance levels and capacities, providing options that can scale with computing needs. This scalability makes DRAM suitable for a wide range of applications, from mobile devices to enterprise servers.
  • Established technology. DRAM is a well-established technology with a broad base of industry support, from manufacturing to software optimization. This widespread adoption ensures compatibility and reliability, as well as ongoing technological improvements and support.
  • Speed. Although not as fast as SRAM, modern DRAM, especially newer generations of DDR, provides sufficient speed for most mainstream computing tasks. DRAM offers balanced performance, which is adequate for applications where ultra-high-speed memory is not critical.


While Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) is widely used for its advantages, it also comes with several disadvantages:

  • Volatility. DRAM loses its data when the power is turned off, making it unsuitable for long-term data storage. This characteristic requires systems to use additional non-volatile memory types to retain important data.
  • Refresh requirement. DRAM cells need to be periodically refreshed to maintain data integrity, as the charge stored in the capacitors leaks over time. This refresh process consumes additional power and can momentarily slow down system performance as it competes for bandwidth with normal data reads/writes.
  • Power consumption. Due to the continuous need for data refreshing, DRAM consumes more power compared to other types of memory like SRAM (Static RAM). This can be particularly disadvantageous in battery-operated devices where power efficiency is crucial.
  • Increased complexity. The necessity of a refresh circuit adds complexity to the memory controller design. This complexity can lead to increased costs and design challenges in integrating DRAM into smaller or highly optimized devices.
  • Slower access speed compared to SRAM. DRAM is generally slower than SRAM, especially in terms of access time and latency. This makes DRAM less ideal for high-speed cache memory where quick data retrieval is critical.
  • Scalability issues. As memory density increases to meet the demands for higher capacity, the tiny capacitors in DRAM become more prone to leakage and other reliability issues, making scaling a challenge without innovative technological advancements.

Anastazija is an experienced content writer with knowledge and passion for cloud computing, information technology, and online security. At phoenixNAP, she focuses on answering burning questions about ensuring data robustness and security for all participants in the digital landscape.