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 in which can be both read and written. There are two main reasons that read-only memory is used for certain functions within the PC:

Permanence: The values stored in ROM are always there, whether the power is on or not. A ROM can be removed from the PC, stored for an indefinite period of time, and then replaced, and the data it contains will still be there. For this reason, it is called non-volatile storage. A hard disk is also non-volatile, for the same reason, but regular RAM is not.

 

Security: The fact that ROM cannot easily be modified provides a measure of security against accidental (or malicious) changes to its contents. You are not going to find viruses infecting true ROMs, for example; it's just not possible. (It's technically possible with erasable EPROM, though in practice never seen.)

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:

 

ROM: A regular ROM is constructed from hard-wired logic, encoded in the silicon itself, much the way that a processor is. It is designed to perform a specific function and cannot be changed. This is inflexible and so regular ROMs are only used generally for programs that are static (not changing often) and mass-produced. This product is analogous to a commercial software CD-ROM that you purchase in a store.