RAM vs memory: What is the difference between RAM and memory?

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Here is everything you need to know about RAM vs memory: What is the difference between RAM and memory? Now, you must be wondering: “is memory and RAM the same?”. The answer is no and you will find out why throughout this article.

Both components serve very different purposes. A lot of people confuse these terms and use them interchangeably.

It is great to have 16 GB of RAM, but it is worrisome to have just 16 GB of storage memory. Hard drives are mostly referred to as the “storage memory” on a computer. Then if the hard drive is considered memory, what is RAM? While both are united by typology, they are separated by purpose and functionality.

Sounds confusing? We all have been through it. Don’t worry! You came here confused, but you will leave with an informed idea.

This article debunks all your doubts about what a computer’s memory is and what storage is. Memory vs RAM. We’ll be talking about RAM and hard drive: what they are and how they work together.

RAM vs memory: What is the difference between RAM and memory?

Let’s start with RAM. It is an acronym for “Random Access Memory”. Yes, right there, you guessed the first distinction. RAM is the memory of your computer.

Hard drives are another integral component of your computer’s hardware. They serve as storage on your system. Those devices store all the files and data that your system needs later. This includes your documents, pictures, general files, operating system files, and much more.

Nowadays, there are two types of hard drives widely popular and commonly used. These include hard disk drives (HDD) and solid-state drives (SSD). Both perform the same function despite working differently.

Most computers throughout the world feature HDDs as their internal storage. They differ from SSDs in their operation to read and access data. A hard disk drive (HDD) features mechanical plates and uses a moving head to read/write data.

On the contrary, a solid-state drive (SSD) features instantly accessible memory chips to access data, making it quicker and faster.

RAM vs memory What is the difference between RAM and memory

RAM and hard drive: Temporary storage vs secondary storage

Now, as we have established what memory and storage are, here comes the latter part. A computer’s RAM is also referred to as its temporary storage. On the other hand, a hard drive is permanent storage and is also known as secondary storage.

As mentioned earlier, both RAM and hard drives share mutual typology. The difference lies in purpose and functionality.

RAM stores data temporarily and retains it as long as the operating system is running. That is why it is termed as memory, not storage. On the contrary, a hard drive stores data that can be accessed again and again.

RAM and hard drive: Functionality

Now that we understand both and their typology, let’s come to their functionality.

What is memory

A computer device’s memory acts as a bridge between your stored data and the central processing unit (CPU). The memory is composed of main memory and cache memory. The main memory is further categorized into two memories:

  • RAM (Random Access Memory)
  • ROM (Read Only Memory)

When we refer to a computer’s memory, we are primarily concerned with its main memory, or RAM. Here’s the reason why:

RAM vs ROM

RAM: RAM or Random Access Memory is the bridge between your data and CPU. Let’s understand the functionality of RAM with a real-life example.

Suppose you are working on an assignment. The assignment is due after three days, and you are working day and night to complete it. Day 1 is finished, and you are done with your planned work.

Now, where would you keep it? Would you pack it in a file folder or leave it on your desk? The latter so that you may resume your work again tomorrow.

In computers, RAM can be considered as your desk, and the hard drive is your file folder. When you access a file from your storage, your RAM reads it from your storage device. RAM then temporarily stores that file and allows you to process it. As long as you are using that file, it is stored, accessed, and processed from RAM.

But there is one thing to remember here. RAM is a volatile memory. It only stores data as long as you are using it and requires a continuous power supply.

As soon as your computer shuts down, RAM automatically loses its data. If you make any changes to any file or program, you need to resave the file in your storage, i.e., the hard drive.

Again, take the example of your assignment. When you complete your project, you pack it in a file folder to save it permanently.

Now you must be wondering why the CPU does not directly access data from storage? The process of accessing and processing from a hard disk takes a long time.

It is easy to access your assignment from your desk rather than going to the file cabinet each time. In the same manner, it is easy for your CPU to access data from your RAM than your storage. It is quicker, faster, and much more manageable.

By giving quick and faster access to data, RAM performs two functions:

  • Allows you to multi-task (bigger the desk space, more files can be opened at a time);
  • Increases the performance of your computer device (quicker to access desk than file folder).

A RAM enhances your computer’s performance through its speed and capacity. Generally, the higher the RAM speed and size capacity, the more extensive data and programs you can process at a time.

To read more about memory, RAM, and computer performance, you can read our article “How to check RAM and RAM speed in Windows 10“.

ROM: ROM is the short form for Read-Only Memory. As the name suggests, the memory is only capable of reading data. ROM is a non-volatile memory. This implies that the data stored on a ROM can neither be erased nor altered once it is manufactured.

The read-only memory provides storage for files and instructions that the operating system uses to run a computer. The data includes BIOS and other firmware.

RAM vs memory What is the difference between RAM and memory

What is storage

Let’s revert to our assignment example once again. It’s day three, and you have successfully finished your assignment. Now, what next? Would you let it reside on your desk, or would you put it back into your file folder? Obviously the latter. This frees up space on your desk so:

  • You do not lose your finished assignment amid a new bunch of files;
  • You can start your new work without worrying about your finished assignment.

Storage is your computer’s file folder. Storage is non-volatile memory. It can store and retain your data without any power supply so that you may access it anytime.

Any file or any program you wish to use or access again needs to be in your storage. It is the permanent storage of your computer and stores data for the long term. Its end-user can only delete the data in a hard drive; that is you.

Permanent or secondary storage can be either internal or external. Internal storage refers to installed drives in your computers.

If you run out of internal storage, you can make an addition to your storage space either by installing a new disk drive or through an external disk drive.

External disk drives include several options. In the past, the storage options included floppy disks, magnetic disks, compact disks (CD), and DVDs (Digital Video Disks). Today, the list is updated, including USB flash drives, memory cards, Blu-Ray drives, or memory sticks.

All these options provide you storage space just like any hard drive. But yes, you cannot easily store your installed programs or applications on external drives. There are some ways to do so too, but we aren’t going to delve into those for now.

RAM and Hard drive: significant differences 

So far, we have understood how RAM and hard drives are united by typology but separated by purpose and functionality.

Let us now move ahead and study significant differences between both memory and storage of computer:

Data storage

RAM: RAM storage is solely for its purpose. The operating system uses RAM storage to store required data. RAM is a volatile memory, and it automatically loses its stored data when the OS is shut down. RAM stores data that is necessary to process your files and data.

Hard drive: A drive is your actual computer storage. Any data that you wish to access anytime is stored in a hard drive. RAM also accesses and stores data from your hard drives.

Storage is not a volatile memory either. That means you don’t lose your data in case of any power loss or OS disruption. Let us understand this with an example. We’ll assume you open an Excel sheet from your storage.

The CPU takes command from you and processes it to your RAM. RAM then accesses the file from your hard drive and stores it.

As long as you are using the file, it is run and stored in your RAM. Now, if your computer shuts down abruptly, all the changes you made in your file will be lost. This is because the file was stored in your RAM.

Size capacity

RAM: A general rule of thumb for both memory and storage is to have a bigger capacity.

The size capacity range of RAM and hard disk storage is very different. RAM is usually available in size ranging from 2 GB up to 32 GB. Your computer usage determines the required amount of RAM.

If you play video games or any heavy programs, your computer will perform best with a bigger amount of RAM. It will be able to process big files, resulting in better computer performance.

Hard drive: All programs, applications, files, documents, and data are stored in a hard drive. This explicitly means that you need a lot of storage to keep this humongous bunch of data.

The size capacity of a hard drive typically ranges from some hundreds of GB to 2 or 3 TB.

Cost

RAM: RAM is generally expensive. If one GB of hard drive costs you around 10 cents, one GB of memory will likely cost you ten times more than that.

Hard drive: Hard drives are a bit lighter on your pockets. It is easy to make an addition to your storage as they are cheaper and budget-friendly.

Speed

RAM: One distinctive feature and purpose of RAM is its speed. RAM is capable of reading and writing data much faster and quicker than a drive.

Hard drive: A hard drive functions slower than RAM.

It takes a longer time to read and write data on hard drives. As a reason, RAM is installed in a computer to improve its performance. RAM works along a CPU and storage to accelerate the process of reading and writing data.

Today, SSDs (solid-state drives) have become widely popular. The main distinctive feature of SSDs is their faster speed to read and write data. If you plan to replace or upgrade your internal HDD, you must consider getting an SSD as your new storage device.

Upgrades

RAM: A RAM can be upgraded, provided your computer’s motherboard has the specifications to handle it. Suppose you wish to increase the speed of your computer. You can do it easily by upgrading your memory to a larger size and faster speed RAM.

Hard drive: A hard drive can only be upgraded by replacing it with a new one. You can install a new hard disk into your CPU, or you may get external drives for additional storage.

You can only free up space on your existing one by deleting your current data.

Wrap Up

After reading this article, we hope you will able to correct somebody saying “I have got 500 GB memory”. Now it makes sense to you why 8 GB of memory is a great figure, but 8 GB storage is rather short.

Last but not least, here comes the most common and frequently asked question: do we need both? YES! Your computer needs both memory (RAM) and storage (HDD) to work as it should.

A CPU is just like a human body. Each organ is essential, and each organ has a distinctive purpose/function. If any organ is taken out, it results in the dysfunctionality of the body.