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RAM vs. Hard Drive

The memory, otherwise known as RAM, and the hard drive are two separate but equally important components of the computer.  People easily get confused and mix up these two, so we listed down the basic differences in order for you to understand how each function in the system.



Hard Drive

Main Function

System memory

Main storage


Temporarily stores programs and data for quick retrieval during processing

Permanently stores programs and data

Physical Attribute

In the form of a thin strip module, consisting of chips mounted onto a small PCB, and inserted into slots on the motherboard.

Consists of stacked metal platters with a mechanical head moving along the platters, and housed within a rectangular casing

Storage size

Typically in Megabytes, ranges from 128MB to 1024MB (can be up to 64GB for servers)

Large volume ranging from 2GB to 100GB (even higher for server platforms)

Storing Method

Data is stored electronically (that is why you need electricity to retain it)

Data is stored magnetically, so data is retained in the disk even after the power is turned off


Read and write process is very fast because data is accessed via electrical impulses

Read and write process is about 100 times slower because data is accessed mechanically via the mechanical head probing the metal plates


The changes in the data you are currently working on are dynamically saved into the memory banks

The original file is kept untouched in the disk until you invoke a “save” request, then it will be overwritten by the new file taken from the RAM


Data disappear when computer is restarted or is turned off

Data do not disappear even when the computer is turned off unless they are deliberately deleted

You still can’t tell the difference?  Think of it this way: your RAM is like your work table where you can put things and access them quite readily to perform a particular task, and your hard drive is like a filing cabinet where you can store things away after you are done with your task.

So the bigger and wider your work table (RAM) is, the more space you’ll have to put items on without going into your filing cabinet (hard drive) more often than necessary, thus saving you a lot of time.  And the number and the size of files you need to keep in storage determines how big a filing cabinet (hard drive) you should have.