With such a huge range of smartphone hardware on the market today from vendors such as Samsung, HTC, Apple, Motorola, LG and more, it can be very confusing to keep up with what exactly is inside each of these devices. There are at least 10 different CPUs inside smartphones, many different GPUs, a seemingly endless combination of display hardware and a huge variety of other bits and bobs.

In a multi-part guide Neowin will help you understand each and every one of the critical components in your smartphone and how they compare to other hardware on the market. Today we'll be looking at parts located on the mainboard inside the phone, the memory (or RAM) and the on-board and external storage (ROM).

About Random Access Memory (RAM)

RAM, which is short for random access memory, is one of the critical components of the smartphone along with the processing cores and dedicated graphics. Without RAM in any sort of computing system like this your smartphone would fail to perform basic tasks because accessing files would be ridiculously slow.

This type of memory is a middle man between the file-system, which is stored on the ROM, and the processing cores, serving any sort of information as quickly as possible. Critical files that are needed by the processor are stored in the RAM, waiting to be accessed. These files could be things such as operating system components, application data and game graphics; or generally anything that needs to be accessed at speeds faster than other storage can provide.

RAM that is used in smartphones is technically DRAM, with the D standing for dynamic. The structure of DRAM is such that each capacitor on the RAM board stores a bit, and the capacitors leak charge and require constant “refreshing”; thus the “dynamic” nature of the RAM. It also means that the contents of the DRAM module can be changed quickly and easily to store different files.

The advantage of the RAM not being static is that the storage can change to cope with whatever tasks the system is trying to perform. If an entire operating system was, say, 2 GB on disk, it wouldn’t make sense or be efficient for the RAM to archive the entire thing, especially when smartphones with low amounts of RAM (like 512 MB) can’t afford to do that.

RAM is different to the flash-style ROM storage on the device in that whenever power is disconnected from the RAM module, the contents are lost. This is known as volatile storage, and it partially helps the access times to the RAM to be so fast. It also explains loading screens: information from the slower ROM must be passed to the faster RAM, and the limiting factor in most cases is the read speed of the ROM. When the system is powered off, the contents of the RAM is lost and so at the next boot, the RAM needs to be filled once more from the contents on the slower storage.

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This article is brought to you in partnership with Neowin.