What's the Difference between Computer Memory and Storage?

Memory (RAM) and storage are both required to run a computer. They both store data,the difference is in how long the data is stored.

Memory, storage, and the processor

The main difference between computer memory and storage is that memory stores data short-term for immediate access. A computer's moment-to-moment operations are performed using short-term data access — loading applications, browsing the Web, or editing a spreadsheet. Memory is volatile storage, which means that when you turn the computer off, the data disappears. For more information on what RAM does, read here.

Storage (either a hard drive or a solid state drive) stores data long-term for permanent access. It's the component that accesses and stores your files, applications, and operating system. The storage drive is non-volatile, which means the data is stored even if you turn off the computer. For more information about solid state drives, read here. Memory and storage work in tandem with your computer's processor (CPU) to access and use data.

A Crucial SSD and RAM memory modules

How it works

The three components work together to display the program and file you want, and record your changes. 

  1. The storage drive permanently stores programs and files. 
  2. When data is requested, for example you open a file, the processor accesses the storage drive and transfers long-term data (the stored file) to the memory for short-term access. 
  3. As you continue working in the file, or if you switch to another program, such as email, the processor accesses data from storage the first time it's requested, or from the memory after it has been transferred from the storage drive to show you what you've requested.
How data, the CPU, storage and memory work together.

Because of how your system accesses data, the speed of your memory and storage drive plays a big role in how fast your processor is able to convert data to and from the different data types and make it usable. Because slower memory and storage components can cause data bottlenecks, it's best to upgrade one or both components. If your system seems slow, unresponsive, or sluggish compared to when you first bought it, we recommend upgrading your memory, storage, or both for optimal performance gains.

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