Memory v. Storage

Q:Should I upgrade the memory in my computer so that I can keep more MP3's or photos on it? Why is my machine running so slow if I have 250 "gigs" of free space?

A:Both of these questions stem from one of the fundamental misunderstandings many computer users have had since the earliest beginnings of the PC (“personal computer”, not specifically Windows PCs). The computing industry has done a terrible job of reinforcing the difference between storage capacity and memory.

A basic comparison between Memory and Storage can be best understood with an analogy:

Pretend you are sitting in your office. You have a desk in front of you and a filing cabinet beside you. When you are ready to work, you can reach over and pull file folders out of the filing cabinet and open them up on the desk in front of you. As you need to work on more, you can pull additional file folders out of the filing cabinet and open them on your desk.

Obviously, the more file folders you pull out of the filing cabinet, the less workspace you have available on your desk. If your desk is too small, it may become difficult to work if you open too many file folders. If your filing cabinet is too small, you may not be able to keep all the file folders you need to do your work. Therefore, having a filing cabinet and desk of sufficient size for your needs is essential.

In this analogy, your filing cabinet can be equated with storage and your desk space can be equated with memory.

You use your filing cabinet (storage) to store all of your documents, music, photos, and even programs on your computer. If you have a large quantity of information to store, then it requires a larger filing cabinet – or more storage space in the way of a larger hard drive.

The workspace available on your desk (memory) is the area in which you do your work. If some of the file folders you like to work on are very large, ala videos or high resolution photos, or if you like to work on many different things at once, then it requires larger desk – or more memory in the way of RAM.