Computer Concepts USA on Facebook   Computer Concepts USA on Twitter   Computer Concepts USA on Google Plus   Computer Concepts USA on Pintrest   Computer Concepts USA on YouTube   Computer Concepts USA on LinkedIn

Memory (RAM) vs. Hard Drive: There’s a Difference

One of the most important things to know the difference between is memory vs. the hard drive. This is pertinent when you want to know how your computer works and will also save you a lot of time when you know this difference.

The hard drive can hold up to several gigabytes of data. The disk space refers to how much space you have available on the hard drive for storing files. When you save a document or install a new program, it is stored onto the hard drive. It becomes full with the more you save on the disk.

Memory is not the same as disk space. Memory mainly refers to the “random access memory” inside your computer. RAM stores active running programs on the computer. When you open a program like Microsoft Office, it gets loaded into the computer’s memory as well. When you quit the program, the memory is freed up for use by other programs. RAM gets wiped every time the computer is restarted.

RAM can be accessed faster than a hard drive. Computers typically have more hard drive space than memory. This is because small amounts of data from the hard drive do not need to be loaded into the system memory. This is why computers have more hard drive space than RAM.

When your computer says you do not have enough disk space, you need to delete files from the hard drive. If your computer says there is not enough memory to run a program, you will need to buy more RAM. This can save you both time and money.

Below is a chart that helps you see the differences between RAM and the Hard Drive:



Hard Disk (Hard Drive)



Smaller amount
(typically 64 MB -1 GB)

Much larger amount
(typically 500MB to 300 GB)

Temporary storage of files and programs

Permanent storage of files and programs

A little like your real desktop – has only your current work on it (which could be ruined by a spill of Coke or coffee!)

Like a file cabinet – has long-term storage of work (it’s safe from spills!)

Contents disappear when you turn off power to the computer

Contents remain when you turn off the power to the computer (they don’t disappear unless you purposely delete them)

Contents disappear when the computer crashes

Contents remain when the computer crashes

Consists of chips (microprocessors)

Consists of hard disks (platters)

Contents are stored electronically in bits on the chip, in electronic offs and ons (0’s and 1’s), so RAM needs electrical power to hold the contents

Contents are stored magnetically, also in bits which are off or on (0 or 1), so the Hard Disk does not need power to hold the contents

When you want to use a program, a temporary copy is put into RAM and that’s the copy you use

Holds the original copy of the program permanently

The file you are modifying, plus all the changes you make, are kept here in RAM until you do a “save”

When working on a file, the original file is left untouched here in the Hard Drive until you do a “save;” the “save” copies the new version of the file that’s in RAM onto the Hard Disk (and usually replaces the original file)

CCUSA is Certified with the city of Chicago Women Business Enterprises