Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How ROM Works

        Tech | Memory

Figure 2
Figure 2

Creating ROM chips totally from scratch is time-consuming and very expensive in small quantities. For this reason, mainly, developers created a type of ROM known as programmable read-only memory (PROM). Blank PROM chips can be bought inexpensively and coded by anyone with a special tool called a programmer.

PROM chips (Figure 2) have a grid of columns and rows just as ordinary ROMs do. The difference is that every intersection of a column and row in a PROM chip has a fuse connecting them. A charge sent through a column will pass through the fuse in a cell to a grounded row indicating a value of 1. Since all the cells have a fuse, the initial (blank) state of a PROM chip is all 1s. To change the value of a cell to 0, you use a programmer to send a specific amount of current to the cell. The higher voltage breaks the connection between the column and row by burning out the fuse. This process is known as burning the PROM.

PROMs can only be programmed once. They are more fragile than ROMs. A jolt of static electricity can easily cause fuses in the PROM to burn out, changing essential bits from 1 to 0. But blank PROMs are inexpensive and are great for prototyping the data for a ROM before committing to the costly ROM fabrication process.