What’s the Difference between RAM & Memory?

When troubleshooting computers, most people casually throw the term “memory” around in relation to slowdowns and lost data. Unfortunately, most people have limited understanding of how a computer actually utilizes its system resources. Before attempting any sort of DIY solution, it pays to know the difference between RAM and memory.

To effectively function, computers rely on long-term memory and short-term, random access memory or RAM. Sometimes referred to as “disk space,” the hard drive is the long-term memory, or the storage capacity of the computer. This is the place where files are saved anytime the user clicks the “save” button on most applications. If you cracked open the hard drive, you would actually see a metal disk that spins while a head writes information onto it.

On the other hand, RAM is a computer chip that influences a computer’s speed. When users elect to open a file, the computer must store that information somewhere for easy access. In turn, it writes the file temporarily to the RAM, while also temporarily saving files currently being worked on.

The key difference between RAM and hard drive memory is permanence. Whenever the computer stores data to the RAM, it sends the information to the chip by way of small electrical charges necessary to keep the files intact. If the computer crashes or is turned off, the electrical charges are interrupted, and the files are forever lost.

With hard drive memory, however, data remains even after a crash. This is why it’s so important to save your work every few minutes, since this effectively ensures the work will remain even after power losses.

Another key difference between these two types of memory centers on flexibility. Designed with ports on the motherboard, computers have the ability to allow users to upgrade RAM by plugging in new chips. By swapping out two 16 MB chips for two 32 MB chips, for instance, a user can drastically enhance the computer’s performance at minimal cost.

In relation to data recovery, information is often salvageable as long as it is written to the hard drive memory and the disk hasn’t been significantly damaged. For RAM memory, however, data is irrevocably lost the vast majority of the time.