Primary Storage vs. Secondary Storage

August 11, 2011

There are many things that people do not understand in the computer world. This is why when one goes to places that sell hardware components, the employee might give the customer something other than what they were looking. Today, I am going to talk about the difference between primary storage and secondary storage.

What is primary storage? Primary storage is what most people refer to as RAM. RAM is the most often used storage, and is also one of the most commonly upgraded components. It also determines, somewhat, the speed of a computer's perform. It is not the only piece of hardware that deals with computer performance though, so do not go out looking for more RAM if your computer is slow, especially since motherboards limit how much RAM a computer can have. It is the most often used storage because every time the computer is on, all processes of the operating system go into RAM, especially processes that get initiated from software like word processors or media players or browsers or other software. Of course, that is all after the Operating system takes over the system from the BIOS. However, even though it stores things, it requires power. In other words, RAM, or primary storage, is volatile. Once the computer is shut down, the data contained within it is gone. This is something really basic that is learned in the computer field, especially when studying for CompTIA A+ certification. Primary storage is volatile, meaning that data is loss, when no power is available.

What is secondary storage? Many times, this is what people who are unfamiliar with computers refer to as memory to computer hardware places, then end up looking at RAM, instead of what they really wanted. Secondary storage is non-volatile, which means that even without power, the data is still there. There are various kinds that are referred to as mediums.

types of secondary storage mediums:

  • Optical
    these are things like CDs, DVDs, and Blu Rays. Officially, they are known as optical discs
  • Magnetic
    these are things like magnetic tape, hard drives (officially known as hard disk drives), and floppy. they are known as magnetic disk drives.
  • Solid State
    these are things like thumb drives, SD cards, and hard drives (officially known as solid state drives). they are just known as solid state technology (at least for this blog).

Secondary storage is just a place to store files until they are needed. Of course, you can delete files from secondary storage, but they still exist. The thing is though that not everyone has the knowledge or tools to recover them after the files get deleted in say a reformatting of a hard drive. This is why people who work on computers ask or should ask if the client has made any back ups, because the data would technically be gone, although not really. However, this is only the case in a high-level formatting, which is what is usually what happens when somebody reformats a hard drive or SD card. In actuality, there are two types of formatting. The other type is called a low-level format, which is not usually done by end users. A low-level formatting carries a high risk which ultimately leads to having an inaccessible medium. The data may still be there, but it is not going to be as easy to retrieve as a normal high-level formatting, so it would probably be safe to assume that the data really is gone after a low-level formatting. Secondary storage will not lose data unless the medium fails, an improper low-level formatting is performed, or a high-level formatting is perform.

To sum things up, Primary storage is volatile, and it will not keep data without power. Secondary storage is where things like documents, images, and other items are saved for use at a later time, as it will not lose data, unless certain situations are encountered. Hard drives are not memory, but they are storage mediums.

What is your opinion on this post? Have any info to add or anything unclear? Feel free to voice those opinions, questions, or answers to any questions already been posted with a comment of your own.

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