by David Glick

If you are with the majority of computer users, you may not understand the difference between hard drive space and memory, and may get the two mixed up when talking about them. If you would like be more educated about the topic, read this short primer on what the differences are:

Hard Drive Space: The hard drive is a removable device in your computer where information is stored, whether your computer is on or off. Whenever you save a document or other information to your computer, you are actually saving it onto the hard drive (unless you choose another location, of course!). This is why if you don’t save your documents before shutting down your computer, you lose them because they were only stored in memory (see below) and not on the hard drive. The average hard drive sold in 2014 holds between 500 Gigabytes and 1 Terabyte of data (that’s a lot of data!).

As you can see, big hard drives can hold a lot of information! Now that you understand hard drive space like a champ, let’s talk about…..

Memory: Memory comes on a (generally) removable stick found in your computer. Memory holds information when the computer is powered on so it is readily available to use by the computer. When you turn the computer on, Windows (or Mac OS if it’s a Mac) is loaded into the memory of the computer from the hard drive. When you open a program, it too is loaded from the hard drive into memory. Opening a document? That is loaded into memory too. Changes made to the document are in memory only until you “Save” them.

The computer can read the data in RAM (memory) much faster than data from the hard drive. Usually when the computer seems slow it is because there is something going on with the hard drive, not memory. The hard drive is the biggest bottleneck in the computer system because it is so much slower then the rest of the system.

Memory these days comes in Gigabytes just like hard drives, but in much smaller amounts than hard drives. The most important thing to know about memory from this article is that it only holds information when the computer is powered on (or when the computer is in Sleep Mode). The average computer sold in 2014 has about 4 Gigabytes of memory; higher end computers can have 16 Gigabytes or more!

Now that you are an expert on the differences between hard drive space and memory, here is a quick quiz for you – when you open a picture from Facebook in your browser (you can now see the picture in your browser) where is the full picture file – in memory, on the hard drive, or both?

(Final Jeopardy song is playing)

If you answered memory only, you are right!! Your browser may store a thumbnail of the picture in it’s cache, but the full picture must be saved onto your hard drive if you want to view it later.

That’s it! I hope this was helpful to you – and if you ever need help with your computer please call Glick’s Mobile Computer Repair!