We chopped up a RAM stick to show you how it works

WARNING: Many DIMMs were destroyed in the making of this article.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
It's what's inside that counts

If you’ve been building PCs for any length of time, there’s a good chance you’ve got a least a few spare memory modules laying around. These RAM sticks allow us to keep a thousand Chrome tabs open. They are the workhorses that help your favorite PC game, video capture software, chat client, and music player coexist peacefully at the same time.

But what happens when your trusty RAM starts throwing errors and fails a MemTest x86 run? What happens when there’s a sale on electric metal grinders? What happens when you have a camera and some spare colored paper?

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
RAMming speed

Well, this. This is what happens. Utter memory module carnage.

Since we’ve already gone this far, let’s tear this bad boy apart to see what makes modern RAM modules tick.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
Small parts make a larger whole

Most of the small structures on modern memory modules are resistors and capacitors that surround the actual memory chips themselves and ensure consistent power delivery.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
Copper interconnection layers

In the bisected images you can see all of the copper layers that are in the printed circuit board (PCB) of a memory module. These copper interconnection layers are deposited onto and then etched away from the PCB using a complex chemical process.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
Social circles

Each of the copper lines running through the PCB is a single electrical connection. The small circles you can see in the copper pathways are the point where the connections traverse between the many layers in the PCB.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
Layered like a conducting onion

From top to bottom, here are what the copper layers do on this PCB: first signal layer; ground/power plane; second signal layer; ground/power plane; third signal layer; fourth signal layer; ground/power plane; and finally the bottom signal layer.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
A chip off the old silicon

The memory chips themselves are rather nondescript black chips that are about the size of your thumbnail.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
Bumpy ride

The silicon-based memory chips are connected to the PCB using the many small metal bumps on their underside.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
Bumpy ride, part 2

The bumps allow the PCB to provide power to the memory chips so they can transfer and store data using electrical impulses.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
The money shot

Using a drill press, I sanded away the packaging of one of the memory dies. (Editor's note: Please don't try this at home--most computer chips contain dangerous elements that you wouldn't to inhale.) You can see the actual silicon in this image. Admittedly the die is cracked and scarred from the sanding, but it’s still fun to see how much of the package is actual silicon.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
There's gold in them there connections

The small gold connector pads at the base of the DIMM, where it slots into the motherboard, are what allow all of the electrical signals to travel from the memory chips, through the many copper layers in the PCB, and out to the memory controller on the CPU.

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Credit: Thomas Ryan
A modern marvel

The truly amazing thing to acknowledge is the complexity of a RAM DIMM. From the copper traces to the supporting hardware to the packaging, RAM is a modern marvel. What’s even more amazing is that all of this complexity can be yours for one click and about $40.

Maybe then, Chrome will finally support your tab gluttony. And hey, if not, there’s always downloadmoreram.com.

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