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Memory vs Storage: What’s the Difference?

I’ve Always Wanted To Know:
What is the difference between memory and storage when it comes to computers? Why are there two different types?

When it comes to computers there are two terms people are often confused about: memory and storage. The confusing thing is depending on the manufacturer or advertisement the words can be switched or replaced with other ones like hard drive, ram, disk, hdd, random access and a host of other terms.

So what does each do and why does a computer need both?


Synonyms: Memory, Random Access Memory, short term memory, DDR memory, DDR2 memory, DDR3 memory

Use: RAM is used for temporary storage of data programs are accessing and changing. This data is loaded off a storage device or created by the program and stored in the RAM until no longer needed or the program is closed. RAM requires a constant power source to hold information and will clear the information if the power is removed. RAM is many times faster then conventional storage devices and as such is perfect for working with while a program is running.

Words you may find around RAM: DDR, DDR2, DDR3, GDDR3, GDDR5, LPDDR, LPDDR2, LPDDR3, ECC


Hard Drive:

Synonyms: Disk Drive, Storage, HDD, Permanent Storage, SSD

Use: A hard drive is used to store information for long term purposes and retains the data stored on it when the power is removed from the hard drive. Hard drives often have much larger capacities then RAM chips and cost less per gigabyte of storage. Hard drives are used as long term storage instead of temporary storage due to the slow transfer times (compared to RAM.) Hard drives typically refer to mechanical drives which use magnetic storage but some newer drive types use flash memory which retains information when power is removed. These flash based storage devices can be referred to as SSD or solid state drives as they lack moving parts.

Words you may find around hard drive: HDD, 7200 RPM, 5400 RPM, SSD, Raid, Disk configuration, SATA, IDE, SAS

So what’s a good amount and type of each to look for in a new computer (as of August 2012)?

8 GB (Gigabytes) of RAM (or more) and 500GB (or more) of hard drive space is as low as you want to go on a new desktop or laptop. If you want really good performance make sure your ram is the DDR3-1600 (or higher) variety and the hard drive is either a SSD as primary drive and a regular hard drive for storage or at least a 7200 RPM regular hard drive if only one drive is included.