Can a Computer Run without RAM? – Learn Here

Last Updated on January 17, 2021

Whether you are newbie, trying to solve an issue, figuring out if your RAM stick are dead or trying to understand the PC itself, you may want to can a computer run without RAM.

The short answer is NO. Even though the computer may turn on, it won’t pass the POST test in the RAM’s absence. You may see the motherboard’s LEDs lighting up or hear several beeps, but you won’t get anything on the display and the operating system won’t load. RAM has its role in running your computer and is needed to work in coordination with other components.

Thus, RAM is the primary operational memory of a computer and should be present in a working state.

Just as you cannot run a PC without a CPU, you can’t run without RAM. In the following section we learn about this in detail:

Why Can’t a Computer Run Without RAM?

So you can’t run a computer without RAM, why is that?

Here is the explanation for this answer in simple terms. When you turn on your computer, a series of basic diagnostic procedures (better known as POST or power on self-test) are performed to make sure all of the system’s hardware is working correctly.

As RAM is also checked during this process, if the computer finds that there’s no RAM installed, it won’t pass POST which is literally the first step and the operating system just won’t load.

Not just the operating system, even BIOS won’t run without RAM.

In other words, the computer will simply not boot if it finds there is no memory stick or module installed. In essence, this applies to both desktop and laptop computers.

Technical Explanation

Can a Computer Run without RAM
Source: Enterprisestorageforum.com

RAM is also called primary memory. This is a volatile storage device meaning that it stores the data temporarily unlike HDD or SSDs that are non volatile storage devices which save the data until you choose to delete it.

Basically, in order for a program to run on a computer, it has to be loaded onto the RAM from the hard disk first. The CPU then access the program from the RAM.

Why is this so? Well that that is simply because operating systems and the PC architecture has been designed this way.

One of the biggest reason for this is that accessing the program directly from the storage would be a horrendously slow process. RAM storage is much faster than any non-voltatile storage devices including the fastest NVMe SSDs.

A good NVMe SSD can have a sequential read and write speed of 3000 MB/s. A standard DDR4RAM can have sequential read and write speed of 30,000 MB/s.

relative speeds RAM vs storage
Relative Speeds. Source: infinio.com

infinio.com has a great article on how RAM speed compares with rest.

Basically, if something takes a minute to be performed on RAM, it would take a decade for it to be performed on a hard disk.

Hence, loading the program onto the RAM is a much better system design as compared to running it from a storage device.

Plus, given the speed of a CPU, accessing program directly from the storage device would be a huge bottle neck since the hard disk or an SSD just do not have the capacity to cater to CPU data transfer demands.

Therefore, when data manipulation takes places, which is actually the basis of all CPU operation, it done on the memory retrieved from the RAM.

What Happens if You Power-Up a Computer without RAM?

Most people also like to find out what happens when all the memory sticks installed in a computer are removed and an attempt is made to power it on.

If we talk about it broadly, the computer will indeed turn on. You may see the motherboard’s LEDs lighting up, the fans and the hard disk spinning but essentially you won’t get anything on the screen or display.

This means the computer won’t be able to boot and load the operating system in the absence of a RAM stick.

However, you may hear several beeps that would let you know that there’s no RAM installed. The number of beeps depends on the specific motherboard and you may refer to the manual to determine the exact number of beeps it may give.

If your motherboard has a seven-segment display or LEDs a memory code error will be displayed.

Why RAM is Significant for a Computer?

Computer RAM is one of the most significant components that determine your system’s overall performance. It’s a place to store instructions from the CPU and other components and the data used by them while tasks are being performed on a short-term basis.

It’s the RAM that’s responsible for supporting the CPU in its operations. The more RAM that your CPU can access, the easier and more convenient its job becomes which results in a faster computer.

If you don’t have sufficient RAM in your computer, it becomes hard to transfer data and the CPU has to work more.

We have explained this before.

For instance, if you want to run several programs at once on your computer, you can do this if there’s enough capacity of RAM and it’s in good condition.

The Role of RAM in Running a Computer

To provide you a picture of how the RAM contributes to a running computer, we describe briefly how it takes part in the booting process, during the time of running the operating system and programs and shutting down the computer:

  • The CPU and BIOS start when turning the computer on. The CPU gets information from the BIOS on the available hardware (hard drive, RAM, etc.) and where the boot files should be looked for.
  • Boot files from the hard drive are loaded into RAM and then executed by the CPU.
  • Once the operating system is loaded, applications are run (loaded into RAM) and then closed. Note that important things from RAM are written back to the hard disk for use later.
  • When shutting down, data that must be saved for later use is written to the hard drive. The CPU completes saving tasks on files that had been loaded into RAM and then the computer shuts off. Due to this, the RAM becomes empty.

This shows that RAM works in coordination with other components and has a role in the operation of the computer. Also, it proves that the computer system can’t run if RAM is missing.

Why Check Computer without RAM?

can a computer run without ram sticks

It may not be advisable to check a computer without RAM especially in the case of a laptop or AIO PC where you need to open it up and remove one or more memory sticks.

However, if you are building a PC, turning on a computer without RAM can prove to be helpful sometimes to check other components.

For instance, you can check if the LEDs on the motherboard are working or the fan and the hard drive is spinning. You can also check whether the Power Supply Unit (PSU) is functioning properly. It’s also to ensure that power, fan, and SATA connectors are all plugged properly.

When you hear beeps on powering your computer without RAM, it’s an indication that the motherboard is working.

Some but not all PC builders may tend to do this practice to ensure everything is properly hooked up and when they install the RAM into their systems, they are all good to go. Though usually, this won’t damage the system.

However, without the RAM, there isn’t anything to be seen of substance if there is no boot process.

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Conclusion

In this article, we provided you a clear and concise answer to the common question that’s asked by many individuals: can a computer run without RAM?

By now you should have understood the role of RAM in running a computer and its significance. Thus, it becomes necessary to keep your PC operating smoothly by investing in the correct RAM if you are facing unresponsive and sluggish performance.

This will also help you to get the most out of your computer and probably extend its lifespan.

Atif Qazi

Atif Qazi is the founder of PCGearLab. He is a PC enthusiast as well as engineer with a keen interest in PC hardware and all stuff related to tech and games.

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