Random access memory (RAM) isn’t the only type of physical memory attached to your computer’s motherboard. Whether you own a desktop or laptop, it probably has read-only memory (ROM) as well. Unlike RAM, ROM doesn’t affect your computer’s performance. With that said, it’s still a critically important piece of hardware that can protect your computer from catastrophic failure in several ways.

What Is ROM?

ROM is a type of computer memory that’s characterized by its one-way application. As its name suggests, it allows for the reading of stored data. Your computer can read data stored in its ROM, but it can’t write data to its ROM. As a result, the data stored in your computer’s ROM can’t be changed.

How ROM Differs From RAM

While they have similar-looking acronyms, ROM and RAM aren’t the same. RAM supports both the reading and writing of data, whereas ROM only supports the reading of data. Your computer can’t write data to RAM, after which it may read the newly written data. ROM doesn’t support the writing of data — and for good reason as explained below.

Another difference between ROM and RAM is that the former is non-volatile, whereas the latter is volatile. Volatile memory, of course, is computer memory that automatically deletes stored data when powered off. In comparison, non-volatile memory retains its stored data when powered off and back on. When you turn off your computer, data stored in its RAM will be deleted. The data stored in your computer’s ROM, on the other hand, will remain present.

The Importance of ROM

ROM is important because it serves as a failsafe in instances where your computer’s operating system (OS) fails. When manufacturers design and build computers, they add a slimmed-down interface to the ROM. Known as BIOS, it allows you to perform basic commands, such as installing drivers as well as installing OS.

Your computer’s OS can fail from any number of reasons. Maybe it’s become corrupted, or perhaps it’s infected with a virus or malware. If you can boot up your computer to where it loads the OS — even if the OS is damaged or faulty — you should be able to install a new OS. However, this isn’t always the case. Your computer’s OS may be damaged to the point where it fails to load altogether, in which case you’ll need to rely on the BIOS to install a new OS or reinstall the existing OS.