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Read-Only Memory (ROM)
One major type of memory that is used in PCs is called read-only memory, or ROM for short. ROM is a type of memory that normally can only be read, as opposed to RAM which can be both read and written. There are two main reasons that read-only memory is used for certain functions within the PC:
Read-only memory is most commonly used to store system-level programs that we want to have available to the PC at all times. The most common example is the system BIOS program, which is stored in a ROM called (amazingly enough) the system BIOS ROM. Having this in a permanent ROM means it is available when the power is turned on so that the PC can use it to boot up the system. Remember that when you first turn on the PC the system memory is empty, so there has to be something for the PC to use when it starts up. See this section for a description of the system BIOS ROM; see here for a description of the system boot sequence.
While the whole point of a ROM is supposed to be that the contents cannot be changed, there are times when being able to change the contents of a ROM can be very useful. There are several ROM variants that can be changed under certain circumstances; these can be thought of as "mostly read-only memory". :^) The following are the different types of ROMs with a description of their relative modifiability:
Note: One thing that sometimes
confuses people is that since RAM is the "opposite" of ROM (since RAM is
read-write and ROM is read-only), and since RAM stands for "random access
memory", they think that ROM is not random access. This is not true; any location can
be read from ROM in any order, so it is random access as well, just not writeable. RAM
gets its name because earlier read-write memories were sequential, and did not allow
Finally, one other characteristic of ROM, compared to RAM, is that it is much slower, typically having double the access time of RAM or more. This is one reason why the code in the BIOS ROM is often shadowed to improve performance.