RAM vs CPU – Your Guide to the Similarities and Differences 2021

Austin
| Last Updated: June 2, 2021

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Are you stuck on whether to get a computer with a higher storage memory or a faster processing speed? 

No need to worry. There are many people like you. Even those who’ve been around computers for ages still grapple with this idea. 

To make things easy for you next time you want to build or buy a new computer, we went into deep research and discovered that both components matter and that you should look keenly into them.

Follow through as we take you on a tour of the relationship between these two crucial computer specifications.

RAM

CPU

Pros

Pros

  • More RAM slots hence easy to upgrade

  • Usable on different motherboard models

  • It uses less power, thus increased battery life
  • Improves the speed performance of a computer

  • Offers hyperthreading for a doubled performance (virtual extra CPU)

  • Reads and retrieves data faster than RAM

Cons

Cons

  • Offers temporary storage of data

  • Slower than the CPU cache

  • Acquiring several RAM cards during an upgrade can be expensive
  • To upgrade, you must replace the entire CPU

  • Not switchable between motherboards

  • Expensive

Best For

Best For

A computer RAM complements the CPU to complete data processing by supplying it with information

A CPU is the computer’s brain and is essential for any computing process.

What is RAM? 

Random Access Memory, denoted as RAM, is an essential short-term storage component of any computing device such as PCs, game consoles, and even smartphones. It is a high-speed component that stores data temporarily for easy access by the computer CPU.

Running just anything in a system would be abnormally slow without RAM. An application or any game may crawl or even fail without enough RAM in your system.

Unlike other storage devices such as computer hard drives, RAM stores and remembers essential information currently running on the computer system. Such information includes web browser data, games, image editors, mouse movements, and more.

Photo credit: extremetech.com

All the data can be accessed randomly hence the name random access memory.

Many activities like playing a video game, saving a file, opening a tab, and even typing a sentence on the keyboard depending on the computer's RAM. The operating systems also consume a considerable chunk of RAM space.

RAM executes small bits of data; that’s why it can handle tons of activities simultaneously without being overwhelmed.

However, it’s important to note that it will not remember all the information forever hence the need for SSDs and hard drives to store the data when the computer powers off.

What is a CPU?

A Central Processing Unit (CPU), referred to by many as the processor, is electronic circuitry that receives and implements computer programs as per the instructions. The CPU executes basic controls and other arithmetic operations as specified by the computer program commands.

CPU operations differ from other external components like input/out (I/O) circuitry, main memory, and other specialized processors like GPU but work in harmony to accomplish other processes.

The origin of CPUs dates back to the 1970s when a single CPU completed all the attached peripheral components’ processing tasks. These connected peripheral devices included card readers, disc drives, printers, and other accounting devices.

Photo credit: digitaltrends.com

These early computers could only complete one task at a time since they had just one CPU. It was a tedious task that involved a lot of wait time for one process to complete before the next could pick up.

Although the CPUs’ implementation and design have significantly changed, the fundamental operations have remained almost the same.

Modern devices such as printers come with their processing power.  Integrated processors within these devices have relieved the CPU from additional input/output processing tasks. The CPU can now focus on its primary tasks at hand.

How Does RAM Work With the CPU?

Both RAM and CPU are reliant on each other for optimum performance of a machine. While many computer users regard the CPU as the most critical component, it requires RAM’s support to deliver more efficiently.

The CPU does the actual computing of data, while the RAM, commonly known as memory, holds the data for use by the CPU. A simple analogy to understand the relationship between the two is when a computer adds two numbers, for instance, 3 and 5.

The numbers are first loaded in the RAM as data; the CPU then extracts this data, does the computation, and sends it back to the RAM.

Photo credit: geekhampton.com

However, it is essential to note that many sets of instructions are involved in the computation process before the actual result returns to the RAM. Below is a collection of standard instructions involved in the data execution process:

  • Load Instruction- number from RAM and into the CPU

  • Add Instruction- putting two numbers together

  • Store Instruction- send processed data from CPU back to RAM

  • Compare Instruction- one number with another

  • Jump If Condition Instruction- to another address in RAM

  • Output Instruction-to, another device such as a monitor

  • Input Instruction- from a device such as typing in a keyboard

Relevant Characteristics Between RAM and CPU 

RAM


CPU


Speed depends on the CPU

Speed

Generally fast

No cache

Cache

Supported by cache

Depends on the CPU

Clock Rate

Faster clock rate

0.8-10% when idle

Voltage

50% when idle

Stores data

Functions

Executes data

Similarities and Differences 

By now, you know that RAM and CPU are two different computer components that complement each other in task executions.

The section below will identify features that differentiate the RAM from the CPU and any similarities they share.

Photo credit: hawkgraphicsinc.com

RAM and CPU Differences

Acronym

RAM stands for Random Access Memory, whereas CPU means Central Processing Unit.

Speed

The CPU is the computer’s brain and dictates the speed at which the device can execute tasks. On the other hand, RAM holds data for the CPU until when needed for processing.

Component Function

While the CPU is responsible for executing instructions, computer RAM stores the data and makes it ready for retrieval when required by the CPU. RAM feeds the CPU with data for processing and receives it back for storage after being processed.

Future Upgrade

The CPU can not be increased but will need to be replaced as a way of upgrading. You can improve a computer’s RAM since the motherboard comes with several RAM slots for extra RAM cards if you need an upgrade.

Photo credit: techpowerup.com

Versatility

The CPU is made specifically for a particular type of motherboard. For instance, a CPU for an AMD motherboard will not work in an Intels’ motherboard. On the other hand, RAM will allow you to switch between two different motherboards and still work well.

Performance Scale

The launching speed of a program determines the CPU performance, whereas RAM’s performance is measured by how many programs a computer will run at a time. The more efficient the processor is, the faster it will extract data from RAM for processing.

Usage When Inactive

A CPU uses about 0.8 -10% of its total capacity in its inactive state. 

Photo credit: computerhope.com

On the contrary, RAM uses up to 50% of its capacity when it's inactive. These results may vary from one machine to the other. For accuracy, check the Task Manager.

Finally, it’s worth noting that RAM comes in two types:

  • Static Random Access Memory (SRAM)

  • Dynamic Access Memory (DRAM)

Just as the name suggests, SRAM stores data steadily without the need to refresh from time to time. The SRAM works faster than DRAM but will lose all information when the power goes off. It is based on semiconductor memory and stores data in linked flip-flops.

SRAM is also more expensive.

On the other hand, DRAM is also based on semiconductor memory and data stored in the transistor's memory cells. DRAM refreshes more often and will retain data even after a power cut. They are more affordable and commonly used in workstations, computers, and servers.

RAM and CPU Similarities

Although the RAM and CPU have very few significant similarities, they have a few notable features in common, as outlined below.

  • Both RAM and CPU increase the general performance of a computer

  • Upgrading one component affects the other proportionally

  • Both the CPU and RAM are attached to the computed motherboard

Advantages of Getting More RAM

Enough RAM in a computer system improves so many operations apart from complementing the CPU for faster speeds.  Below are some top advantages of getting more RAM for your PC.

Faster Browsing

Computer RAM temporarily stores so many small bits of data. Having so many tabs open at once can slow down operations if you have insufficient memory. To eliminate this problem, add more RAM to your computer.

Keep in mind that you may have a steady internet connection and a more up-to-date processor, but with insufficient RAM in your machine, the system will still crawl. You risk crashing the device as well.

Photo credit: techguided.com

Additionally, most websites today have embedded videos that will play automatically. There are also large images, animated banners, and more that take up a lot of space.

Most of these adverts will cleverly run irrespective of whether you have pop-up blockers or enabled browser setting to bar them.

While it’s true that more RAM will not prevent them from sneaking in, it can prevent the system from overloading.

More Effective Multitasking

If most of your work is conducted on a computer daily or more often, then probably you have more programs running at the same time. These might include memory-hungry applications like word, multiple research websites, web browsers, and more.

Most of these programs are likely to have other promotional adverts running in the background that use up RAM.

The solution to this would be adding more RAM. While More RAM will not speed up information processing, your system will not be overwhelmed by large files and huge applications that may prevent it from running smoothly.

Enhanced Gaming

Gaming is among the top reasons people continue to invest in laptops and PCs in this age of smartphones. 3D games are graphic intensive but offer a hyper-realistic gaming experience with an engaging environment for gamers.

Photo credit: mobigyaan.com

For that reason, Virtual Reality Gaming has seen the demand for both high-end processors and RAM grow exponentially. The good news is that, with enough RAM, even cheap computers can keep pace with the latest gaming advancements.

Of course, for smooth and seamless gaming, you’ll also need to upgrade your graphics card. It will be a waste of resources to get a good graphics card and run it on low RAM space.

More Efficient Printing

You probably run into printing bottlenecks if you do large format printing more often. Some people blame this on their cheap computers while others may mistake it on poor printer response.

If you ever experience a crawl in your printing, a simple solution would be to upgrade your computer RAM. More RAM will tremendously improve your printing speed on large format files, even with a cheap computer.

Photo credit: turbofuture.com

Advantages to more RAM in a computer are immeasurable. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that adding more RAM alone will not yield much if other components are left the same.

For instance, consider upgrading both the RAM and your graphics card for a smooth gaming experience. The same applies to CPU if you want to increase your system's processing speed.

Advantages of Upgrading Your CPU 

Although RAM and CPU work together to complete tasks more efficiently, the CPU is crucial, and upgrading it will enhance performance further.

To understand the importance of upgrading a CPU, it’s vital to first understand the structural format of a CPU and how it executes tasks.

A CPU is made of cores. A core is responsible for processing information sent to it from the RAM. A CPU with four cores will process four different tasks at the same time. However, CPUs with hyperthreading mean one core can handle two problems at the same time.

Photo credit: digitaltrends.com

For instance, if your CPU has four cores, hyperthreading means you’ll have four additional virtual cores. Therefore, your system will technically be running on two CPUs simultaneously.

However, upgrading a CPU means replacing the entire hardware, this can be costly, but it’s a worthy investment. Some of the benefits of upgrading your CPU include:

  • Upgraded CPU means more cores and hyperthreading hence improved performance speed.

  • Reduced data wait-time by the RAM

  • Faster retrieval of data from the CPU cache without the need to go back to the main memory

  • Process more commands at the same time without straining the system

A CPU is the brain of your computer. It contains all the needed circuitry to process input, execute storage, and output. And just like a human brain, when exercised and fed with the proper nutrients, it will make you more productive; the same is true with a CPU.

If it is within your budget, consider investing more into your computer CPU more than you’d in any other part. Of course, you want to keep in mind other factors like motherboard type and other components that work in harmony with the CPU to accomplish its processes.

What About the Motherboard?

A computer motherboard connects all the components and peripherals of a computer. It is the central circuit hub responsible for regulating power supplied to the CPU, system memory, graphics card, and hard drive. It is the computer backbone.

Photo credit: gamersnexus.net

Other than the CPU and RAM slots, the motherboard comes with additional in-built components that include the BIOS, the system bus, the chipset, and the CMOS.

The motherboard also has other sockets and ports like accelerated Graphics Ports (AGP), Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI), Universal Serial Bus (USB), and  Integrated Drive Electronics.

The shape and the layout of the major board make up the form factor. The form factor determines how other motherboard components fit in. It is the defining standard on which other motherboard peripherals must be compatible for the system to work.

So, to build your computer, the motherboard acts as the determinant of what types of peripherals you’ll need to assemble. For example, different motherboards support specific CPUs, memory slots, video cards, and other peripherals.

Connector-component compatibility and other motherboard slots should be considered when assembling a computer or replacing faulty parts. You also want to keep in mind that the motherboard’s choice will impact your future desire to upgrade.

Bottom Line

The choice between RAM and CPU can not be biased. The two computer components are reliant and complementary to each other. 

For instance, a powerful processor will speed up operations by optimizing the RAM and cutting down information retrieval wait-time.

On the other hand, apart from supporting hundreds of temporary storage requirements in a computer, sufficient RAM makes it easy for the CPU to transfer data to and from the storage memory.

However, one crucial factor to keep in mind about CPUs, in particular, is the compatibility factor. Pay close attention to the system motherboard to determine feasibility for future upgrades.

Photo credit: gamingscan.com

People Also Ask

Most computer users confuse computer memory and the processor. These two terms have close operational functions; hence, people tend to use them interchangeably. You’ll notice the confusion more when buying a new computer.

Below we answer some common questions from users and those seeking to buy or build their computers.

Is RAM or CPU More Important for Gaming?

As much as more RAM and CPU are important for a machine’s optimum operation, more than enough RAM or CPU will not make any significant difference when gaming.

Getting at least 8GB of RAM and a Quad-core processor will be enough for your gaming needs. 

You may go up to 16GB of RAM if you plan to multitask, but as long as the memory can accommodate the gaming software, additional RAM space or processor will make a negligible difference.

Photo credit: trentonsystems.com

Is RAM Faster Than a CPU?

The first thing to keep in mind is that RAM and CPU work in harmony to complete tasks, and none is competing with the other. With that in mind, the speed of one component will have a direct impact on the other.

For instance, upgrading your CPU will automatically optimize your RAM. However, the two must be proportional to achieve a balance in speed.

Does More RAM Help the CPU?

The CPU picks data from the storage memory (RAM) for processing and sends it back once execution is complete and picks another one. So, more RAM equals more RAM cycles which in turn increases the CPU speed.

Additionally, you experience reduced power consumption due to easy and faster access to data.

Does the CPU Limit RAM Speed?

The CPU will access memory at its intended pace.  A computer running a 32-bit processor will address up to a maximum of 4GB RAM, whereas computers with 64-bit processors can handle lots of RAM running to hundreds of terabytes.

However, RAM performance is limited by the motherboard bus speed and the processor speed, whereas the CPU speed of the CPU is dictated by the number of cores present in the processor.



Austin

When the tech company I worked for restructured and I ended up jobless, I decided to put the wealth of knowledge and management skills to use somewhere new. I’d checked out a few buyer’s guides on the site in the past and reached out to the previous owner. A few months later, here we are. Now, I get to be behind the scenes, helping people find the best tech.