I often get asked by my friends to explain technology to them, and seeing as the majority of the world does not understand HOW computers work, I use analogies to help. In this installment, I’ll briefly explain how RAM, Hard Drives, and CPUs work.

We begin by imagining a lake, completely frozen. This lake is filled with ice, and represents your hard drive. Ice represents your data. A hard drive is a place where you store data for long periods of time, just like how a lake stores ice for long periods of time.

One of the few basic operations of a CPU, or a Central Processing Unit, is adding two numbers together. Processor speed (2.4GHz, for example) is actually the number of times a second that the CPU decides to do any sort of calculation. For this analogy, we’re going to take a chunk of ice and melt it and that is a single computation. In this case, CPU speed is like being able to melt ice faster.

If you’re wondering why CPU speed matters when you buy a new phone or computer, it’s because it’s able to perform calculations faster, or in our case, melt the ice faster. If you bought a hairdryer it would melt the ice at a certain rate. If you bought a flamethrower, it would definitely melt the ice at a faster rate, but costs more. This is why people look at CPU speeds.

Now, melting an entire lake is terribly inefficient and slow. You definitely don’t want to do that all the time, ESPECIALLY if you only need to melt some of the ice, and not all of it. So what do you do?

We take SOME of the ice and put it in a container. Now, we can melt a smaller amount of ice faster, as well as only melting the ice that we need. This container represents our Random Access Memory, or RAM for short.