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What’s the difference in memory and hard drive?

RAM (computer memory) and hard drive storage are often confused by your typical computer consumer. This is probably because they are both measured in the same units.  Megabytes or more commonly today gigabytes of data are used to define both types of hardware.

Most computers today have somewhere between 1 and 16 GB of RAM, though there may be some with more or less.   You can think of RAM as the short term memory of a computer.  It is where the computer does it’s immediate “thinking.”  If I open a program some of that code will occupy space in the RAM.  The more programs I open, the more RAM is consumed.  When the RAM gets close to it’s capacity the computer has no more room to “think” and will get sluggish as a result.  Even if no other programs are open , the operating system (Windows) needs room to run things like your desktop, file explorer, and hardware drivers.  When you turn the computer off, everything that is temporarily stored in memory will disappear.  This is one reason that it helps to reboot your computer because you clear up memory.

Your hard drive is used as permanent storage space for your files.  This is where your pictures, videos, and documents are stored.  Hard drives typically come in sizes from around 100 GB up to 2 Terabytes(2000 GB).   There are larger and smaller drives but they are less common.  The hard drive also is where your operating system and applications are stored.  If the hard drive is erased or dies not only do you have to reinstall the operating system and all of the programs, you will also lose any of your personal files that are not backed up elsewhere.  All hard drives will eventually die, so it’s important to have a backup plan!

How much RAM does a computer need?  Current computers running Windows 10 usually require at least 2 GB but I would recommend at least 4, and 8 would be even better.  As far as hard drive space goes, that really depends on how much you intend to store.  For the average user, a 1 TB hard drive is more than sufficient.  If you don’t store tons of photos or video, you can probably get by with much less.

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