Hard Drive vs Memory: Do You Know The Difference?

Hard drives and memory are two of the most commonly conflated terms in computing, however, they are NOT the same thing! Hard drive vs memory: both are types of internal storage spaces in a computer, but each serves a different purpose. In this article, we’ll highlight the different role that hard drives and memory play in a computer.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

RAM is the computer’s main memory. It acts as a work space the computer uses to get work done. When you open an application or a document, RAM stores that data while the computer is actively working on it. When the computer is turned off or reset, information on the RAM disappears.

You might need more RAM if you’re frequently:

  • Video Editing
  • High-Resolution Image Editing
  • Multi-track Audio Recording
  • 3D Rendering
  • Large-scale Computations for Science and Engineering

Hard Drives

Hard drives are where data is recorded and can stay indefinitely to be recalled as necessary. Unlike RAM, data written to a hard drive remains when the computer is turned off so you don’t have to re-enter and reload it each time you use your computer.

Hard drives in most personal PCs use an interface called Serial ATA (SATA). This interface is cheap and simple to manufacture, but is not the best quality hard drive available. Recently, more computers are being built with Solid State Drives (SSDs) instead of, or in addition to, a conventional hard drive.

SSDs are faster than SATA hard drives and store data even when the PC is turned off, much like RAM. However, they still don’t compare to actual RAM where speed is concerned.

How RAM and hard drives interact

Both RAM and hard drives compliment one another to create a productive platform for work. It’s important to understand that RAM cannot be used instead of hard drives, and hard drives cannot be used in place of RAM. 

If you’re running several applications and documents at once, RAM can become full. When that happens, your computer temporarily writes information to a designated portion of your hard drive or SSD called a virtual memory. 

RAM is faster than hard drives, meaning applications and documents will load rather quickly with decent memory installed. If you’re running too many applications and your RAM is full, then you’ll need a fast hard drive to read and write virtual memory quickly. Therefore, the speed and quality of BOTH your RAM and hard drives should be taken into consideration when looking for an office computer.

How to Shop

Another important consideration should be the life of the computer you’re considering and its ability to be upgraded. It’s important to note that not all computers allow for RAM to be upgraded. If your industry requires intensive work like I’ve mentioned above, look for a computer that can be upgraded or one with enough RAM to meet your needs.

Another important feature to consider is the revolutions-per-minute (RPM) of your hard drive, or how many axes turns your hard drive makes per minute. The higher your RPM the faster the performance of your computer. Again, SSDs are faster than SATA hard drives and can improve performance and extend the life of your PC, but they are more expensive than standard hard drives as a result. Consult with your IT professional to figure out what hard drive is best for your budget and needs.

Remember to Backup Regardless of how much RAM or what hard drives you use, you need to backup your computer often. All hardware degrades over time and will eventually reach end of life. You do NOT want to risk having no recovery plan with your work files. No backup strategy should depend on any one device, so a local hard drive just doesn’t cut it. A remote server or other offsite storage is imperative for data safety.

If you’d like a professional to help you address the storage needs of your business, reach out to us. We’ll be happy to take care of it for you so you can focus on your daily operations.



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