What’s the difference between RAM and a hard drive? Aren’t they both memory?

It’s true, RAM and a hard drive are both “memory”, in that they store information. But how they do it, and their cost, are very different.

A hard drive is similar to long term storage, where files are stored. Much like how paper documents are put into folders and eventually put into a file cabinet, computer documents are saved on a hard drive. Once saved there, they can not be removed unless specifically deleted.

RAM (Random Access Memory) is similar to short term storage, but designed to be much faster than a hard drive, so the computer can quickly access the information as needed. Whatever is in RAM is erased when the computer is powered off.

RAM allows your computer to handle multiple programs running at once. By providing the programs currently running, the data you are currently accessing, and the operating system, RAM allows the windows you’ve minimized to quickly re-appear when you click on them.

When your computer uses all it’s available RAM, it starts moving information to the hard drive, so that it can still be accessed when you need it – but it won’t be as fast as if the information was in RAM. To see how things are fairing for your computer, take a look at the Task Manager – found by right clicking the taskbar (the bar at the bottom of the screen). Click “Start Task Manager”, then click the “Performance” Tab. How’s the meter? Almost full?

These days, it makes sense to make sure you have as much RAM as you can currently afford. This will keep your computer moving quickly.

Your hard drive stores all your files – and unless you have an enormous collection of pictures, music, or video files – you’ll probably be fine with whatever you have. Most computers there days come with so much space, it would take millions of Word documents to fill the space.

Just remember – RAM = fast memory. You want as much as possible. Hard drive = long-term memory storage. Don’t worry about that unless you have a huge collection of something.