Tech Terms Explained: Memory vs Hard Drive



Editor’s Note: this is an occasional series dedicated to tech terms. See our previous articles on file extensions and modems, routers and firewalls).

Weston is an IT solution provider. Sometimes the solution involves getting a new computer. There are lots of confusing things about computer shopping (see our tips on buying computers for your business). One of the more confusing things is the difference memory and storage (especially when both are referred to in gigabytes). So what’s the difference?

Hard Drive: Your hard drive is your long-term storage for your computer. All your computers files and programs are stored here, accessed as needed when needed. As such, it is generally the largest data storage device on your computer – anywhere from 128 gigabytes (GB) or even smaller all the way up to 10,000GB (or 10 terabytes). Unlike RAM, hard drives are non-volatile, meaning if the power goes out, you don’t lose what is stored there. However, hard drives are a lot slower than RAM, which is why hard drive storage is supplemented by RAM. Hard drives come in a couple different types, mechanical or solid-state, and you can read about the differences between those drive types here. While having more storage is nice, faster storage is better, so that’s why you don’t always want to look at the amount of space you’re getting with a new computer, but the speed of that space. Read this article for more details.

Memory (aka RAM or Random Access Memory): RAM is very fast temporary storage in your system. It’s used by your computer for temporary storage of currently running programs, system libraries, etc…. . It’s basically for stuff you need and are actively using right now. When you open a program or a file, your computer will read it from the hard drive and store it temporarily in RAM. The more programs and documents you typically have open at one time, the more RAM your system will need. Generally speaking, the more RAM you have in your system, the faster your system will go and the more you can do at once (but there will be diminishing returns if you start putting in a ton). We recommend a minimum of 8 gigabytes (GB) of RAM in a basic office computer or laptop.

Think about your office right now. You have your desk, which is covered with files and information you need quickly. But it can get overwhelming and slow down your productivity if your desk is too small and you’re putting too much on it. That is your RAM.

But you also have a room jammed with locking file cabinets full of folders and files. That is your hard drive. You know it’s there, it will just take a bit longer to find it. When you start to run out of room for file cabinets, you know it’s time to dispose or archive some folders somewhere else.

Need further explanation? This older but still valid c|net article may help

Interested in increasing the storage, speed, or capacity of your computer? Call us today and we can let you know what kinds of upgrades (and backup options) are available for your systems.

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