Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Laptops Work

Laptop Memory and Storage
SODIMM modules
SODIMM modules

A laptop's memory can make up for some of the reduced performance that comes from a slower processor. Some laptops have cache memory on or very near the CPU, allowing it to access data more quickly. Some also have larger busses, allowing data to move between the processor, motherboard and memory more quickly.

Lapto­ps often use smaller memory modules to save space. Memory types used in laptops include:

  • Small Outline Dual Inline Memory Module (SODIMM)
  • Dual Data Rate Synchronous RAM (DDR SDRAM)
  • Single data rate Synchronous RAM (SDRAM)
  • Proprietary memory modules

Some laptops have upgradeable memory and feature removable panels for easy access to the memory modules.


­ Like a desktop, a laptop has an internal hard disk drive, which stores the operating system, applications and data files. However, laptops generally have less disk space than desktops. A laptop hard drive is also physically smaller than that of a desktop. In addition, most laptop hard drives spin more slowly than desktop hard drives, reducing both heat and power consumption.

Desktop computers have multiple bays for installing additional drives, such as CD and DVD ROM drives. However, space in a laptop is in much shorter supply. Many laptops use a modular design, allowing a variety of drives to fit in the same bay. These drives come in three different designations:

  • Hot swappable - The computer can stay on while changing the drive.
  • Warm swappable - The computer can stay on while changing the drive, but the corresponding bus (the path the drive uses to send data to the CPU) must be inactive.
  • Cold swappable - The computer must be off during the swap.

In some cases, these drive bays are not just limited to drives but will also accept extra batteries.

Next, we'll look at the video processing and display capabilities of a laptop.