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main memory
Last modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2002 

Refers to physical memory that is internal to the computer. The word main is used to distinguish it from external mass storage devices such as disk drives. Another term for main memory is RAM.

The computer can manipulate only data that is in main memory. Therefore, every program you execute and every file you access must be copied from a storage device into main memory. The amount of main memory on a computer is crucial because it determines how many programs can be executed at one time and how much data can be readily available to a program.

Because computers often have too little main memory to hold all the data they need, computer engineers invented a technique called swapping, in which portions of data are copied into main memory as they are needed. Swapping occurs when there is no room in memory for needed data. When one portion of data is copied into memory, an equal-sized portion is copied (swapped) out to make room.

Now, most PCs come with a minimum of 32 megabytes of main memory. You can usually increase the amount of memory by inserting extra memory in the form of chips.

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