Tech Terms | Abbreviations A–Z
RAM, Reset, ROM, RTOS
(abbr.): Random-access memory (RAM /ræm/) is a form of computer memory that can be read and changed in any order, typically used to store working data and machine code. A random-access memory device allows data items to be read or written in almost the same amount of time irrespective of the physical location of data inside the memory. In contrast, with other direct-access data storage media such as hard disks, CD-RWs, DVD-RWs and the older magnetic tapes and drum memory, the time required to read and write data items varies significantly depending on their physical locations on the recording medium, due to mechanical limitations such as media rotation speeds and arm movement.
RAM contains multiplexing and demultiplexing circuitry, to connect the data lines to the addressed storage for reading or writing the entry. Usually more than one bit of storage is accessed by the same address, and RAM devices often have multiple data lines and are said to be "8-bit" or "16-bit" etc. devices.
In today's technology, random-access memory takes the form of integrated circuit (IC) chips with MOS (metal-oxide-semiconductor) memory cells. RAM is normally associated with volatile types of memory (such as dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) modules), where stored information is lost if power is removed, although non-volatile RAM has also been developed. Other types of non-volatile memories exist that allow random access for read operations, but either do not allow write operations or have other kinds of limitations on them. These include most types of ROM and a type of flash memory called NOR-Flash.
The two main types of volatile random-access semiconductor memory are static random-access memory (SRAM) and dynamic random-access memory (DRAM). Commercial uses of semiconductor RAM date back to 1965, when IBM introduced the SP95 SRAM chip for their System/360 Model 95 computer, and Toshiba used DRAM memory cells for its Toscal BC-1411 electronic calculator, both based on bipolar transistors. Commercial MOS memory, based on MOS transistors, was developed in the late 1960s, and has since been the basis for all commercial semiconductor memory. The first commercial DRAM IC chip, the Intel 1103, was introduced in October 1970. Synchronous dynamic random-access memory (SDRAM) later debuted with the Samsung KM48SL2000 chip in 1992.
In a computer or data transmission system, a reset clears any pending errors or events and brings a system to normal condition or an initial state, usually in a controlled manner. It is usually done in response to an error condition when it is impossible or undesirable for a processing activity to proceed and all error recovery mechanisms fail. A computer storage program would normally perform a "reset" if a command times out and error recovery schemes like retry or abort also fail.
Most computers have a reset line that brings the device into the startup state and is active for a short time after powering on. For example, in the x86 architecture, asserting the RESET line halts the CPU; this is done after the system is switched on and before the power supply has asserted "power good" to indicate that it is ready to supply stable voltages at sufficient power levels. Reset places less stress on the hardware than power cycling, as the power is not removed. Many computers, especially older models, have user accessible "reset" buttons that assert the reset line to facilitate a system reboot in a way that cannot be trapped (i.e. prevented) by the operating system. Out-of-band management also frequently provides the possibility to reset the remote system in this way.
Many memory-capable digital circuits (flip-flops, registers, counters and so on) accept the reset signal that sets them to the pre-determined state. This signal is often applied after powering on but may also be applied under other circumstances.
The ability for an electronic device to be able to reset itself in case of error or abnormal power loss is an important aspect of embedded system design and programming. This ability can be observed with everyday electronics such as a television, audio equipment or the electronics of a car, which are able to function as intended again even after having lost power suddenly. A sudden and strange error with a device might sometimes be fixed by removing and restoring power, making the device reset. Some devices, such as portable media players, very often have a dedicated reset button as they are prone to freezing or locking up. The lack of a proper reset ability could otherwise possibly render the device useless after a power loss or malfunction.
(abbr.): Read-only memory (ROM) is a type of non-volatile memory used in computers and other electronic devices. Data stored in ROM cannot be electronically modified after the manufacture of the memory device. Read-only memory is useful for storing software that is rarely changed during the life of the system, also known as firmware. Software applications (like video games) for programmable devices can be distributed as plug-in cartridges containing ROM.
Strictly, read-only memory refers to memory that is hard-wired, such as diode matrix or a mask ROM integrated circuit (IC), which cannot be electronically changed after manufacture. Although discrete circuits can be altered in principle, through the addition of bodge wires and/or the removal or replacement of components, ICs cannot. Correction of errors, or updates to the software, require new devices to be manufactured and to replace the installed device.
Floating-gate ROM semiconductor memory in the form of erasable programmable read-only memory (EPROM), electrically erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM) and flash memory can be erased and re-programmed. But usually, this can only be done at relatively slow speeds, may require special equipment to achieve, and is typically only possible a certain number of times.
The term "ROM" is sometimes used to mean a ROM device containing specific software, or a file with software to be stored in EEPROM or Flash Memory. For example, users modifying or replacing the Android operating system describe files containing a modified or replacement operating system as "custom ROMs" after the type of storage the file used to be written to.
(abbr.): real-time operating system. A RTOS is an operating system (OS) intended to serve real-time applications that process data as it comes in, typically without buffer delays. Processing time requirements (including any OS delay) are measured in tenths of seconds or shorter increments of time. A real-time system is a time-bound system which has well-defined, fixed time constraints. Processing must be done within the defined constraints or the system will fail. They either are event-driven or time-sharing. Event-driven systems switch between tasks based on their priorities, while time-sharing systems switch the task based on clock interrupts. Most RTOSs use a pre-emptive scheduling algorithm.
A key characteristic of an RTOS is the level of its consistency concerning the amount of time it takes to accept and complete an application's task; the variability is 'jitter'. A 'hard' real-time operating system (Hard RTOS) has less jitter than a 'soft' real-time operating system (Soft RTOS). The late answer is a wrong answer in a hard RTOS while a late answer is acceptable in a soft RTOS. The chief design goal is not high throughput, but rather a guarantee of a soft or hard performance category. An RTOS that can usually or generally meet a deadline is a soft real-time OS, but if it can meet a deadline deterministically it is a hard real-time OS.
An RTOS has an advanced algorithm for scheduling. Scheduler flexibility enables a wider, computer-system orchestration of process priorities, but a real-time OS is more frequently dedicated to a narrow set of applications. Key factors in a real-time OS are minimal interrupt latency and minimal thread switching latency; a real-time OS is valued more for how quickly or how predictably it can respond than for the amount of work it can perform in a given period of time.
An RTOS is an operating system in which the time taken to process an input stimulus is less than the time lapsed until the next input stimulus of the same type.
The most common designs are:
- Event-driven – switches tasks only when an event of higher priority needs servicing; called preemptive priority, or priority scheduling.
- Time-sharing – switches tasks on a regular clocked interrupt, and on events; called round robin.
Early CPU designs needed many cycles to switch tasks during which the CPU could do nothing else useful. For example, with a 20 MHz 68000 processor (typical of the late 1980s), task switch times are roughly 20 microseconds. In contrast, a 100 MHz ARM CPU (from 2008) switches in less than 3 microseconds. Because switching took so long, early OSes tried to minimize wasting CPU time by avoiding unnecessary task switching.