RAM vs Hard Drive: The Key Differences You Need to Know

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With remote work and learning here to stay, at least for the time being, it’s easy to see why people everywhere need new laptops and desktops. Many programs that remote schools and offices use require space and specs that the cheap computer you got for Christmas five years ago won’t have.

Now, when you go computer shopping, you’re bombarded by lines upon lines of specifications. The two most prominent specs among these are RAM and hard drive space. What are hard drive space and RAM? How can they affect your performance? Here’s what you need to know about RAM vs hard drive space.

What Is RAM?

To understand the difference between RAM vs hard drive space, we need to first understand what RAM is. RAM, or Random Access Memory, is temporary storage available only as long as the machine receives power. It’s also known as primary memory, and has only electrical parts (i.e. transistors) over mechanical parts, like a disk.

RAM affects how fast your computer runs, and how many tasks it can handle at once. Think of RAM as your ability to multitask and handle big projects. Some programs demand more RAM usage than others, which is why your computer can juggle some programs with ease but will chug on others. (Chrome, Discord, and most video games are notorious RAM hogs.)

What Types of RAM Are There?

As with anything computer-related, there are many types of RAM on the market. Below, we have listed the most common types, and what you need to know about each:

SRAM

SRAM, or Static Random Access Memory, stores data within a six-transistor memory cell. SRAM often serves as the cache memory for the computer’s processor. As such, it’s usually not user-replaceable.

SRAM is a faster option, keeping memory as long as it’s connected to the power supply. However, because of this, it’s the more expensive choice of the two.

DRAM

DRAM, or Dynamic Random Access Memory, stores data in a capacitor-transistor pair. Since the transistor and capacitor can leak and discharge small amounts of electricity, DRAM has to be refreshed every few milliseconds or so, which causes it to be slower.

DRAM is less expensive to make, and thus, is more user-replaceable than SRAM. There are three common subtypes of DRAM, which include:

Synchronous DRAM

As you might expect, Synchronous DRAM keeps your memory speed in synch with your CPU clock speed. This means that the memory knows the precise cycle when the requested data will be prepared. This means your CPU can handle more tasks at a time.

Double Data Rate SDRAM

Double Data Rate SDRAM (often abbreviated as DDR SDRAM) applies the same principle as SDRAM. However, it uses a method known as “double pumping” to allow data transfer on the rising and falling edges of a CPU’s clock signal. This effectively doubles the speed you’d get out of a standard SDRAM.

Rambus DRAM

This type of DRAM takes its name from its manufacturer. It was mainly used for graphics cards and video game consoles, starting from the early 2000s.

How Much RAM Do I Need?

Now that you understand what RAM is and what types of RAM are available, you may wonder how much RAM you need for your next computer. Well, the answer to that question is, “It depends.”

What do you intend to use your computer for? How much do you intend to use it? These questions will determine how much RAM you need.

The average high-end mobile device has between four to six gigabytes of RAM in it. Most people use their phones for limited streaming and video calling, social media browsing, and other basic app functions. If that’s all you use your computer for, then any device with four or more gigabytes of RAM should suffice. (Though you may experience some slowdown if you have a ton of tabs open in Chrome.)

Eight gigabytes is considered the standard for laptop and desktop computers nowadays. This allows the computer to juggle a multitude of programs with ease and can let you play video games without too much slowdown. If you do a lot of remote work or schooling, a machine with eight gigabytes will handle everything you need it to do without issue.

For anything gaming or graphic-design related, you need sixteen gigabytes of RAM or more in order to experience maximum performance. You can run these programs on eight gigs, but you had best expect long rendering times and some lag while gaming.

What Is A Hard Drive?

Now, let’s discuss the hard drive. A computer’s hard drive is its long-term storage. Hard drives have mechanical parts to back up their electrical ones, so they can retain saved data even after the device gets powered off. Your hard drive determines how much data you can install and save on your computer.

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Think of your hard drive as your long-term memory. It’s where you store your files and programs to call up when you need them, rather than keeping them on-hand at all times. Once installed, unless deleted or uninstalled, that data will remain there.

What Types of Hard Drive Are There?

Let’s say that you’re shopping online for a Lenovo device. There, you’ll find yourself bombarded with loads of abbreviations by the hard drive specifications that make no sense to a non-techie. These abbreviations often refer to the type of hard drive the computer has. Each type of hard drive has its own benefits and drawbacks, as listed below:

SATA

The SATA (also known as the Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) drive is the most common one you’ll find on the market. It’s the default one used for most laptops or desktops. SATA are hard drives with spinning platters and moving needles that write data at blistering paces versus their predecessors, the PATA.

These drives are among the cheapest to buy if you’re building your computer on your own. However, since they use a disk, they wear down faster and are more prone to shocks, bumps, and other impacts. This makes them an especially poor match for laptops since laptops get moved around a lot.

SSD

SSDs, or Solid State Drives, are becoming industry standard for laptops and desktops. Unlike SATA, they have no disks or moving parts. Everything gets stored on its internal flash memory. Without these moving parts, they’re less prone to damage from shocks or bumps and can read programs at blistering speeds.

Even a low-end SSD will outperform a SATA in terms of processing speed. This is a good thing, considering that SSDs are more expensive to purchase, and don’t have as many storage options.

NVMe

The NVMe, or Non-Volatile Memory Express, is the most recent release on the hard drive scene. These hard drives are a type of SSD that can be attached to a PCIe slot on the computer’s board. Since that slot was once intended for graphics cards, this gives your computer blazing fast speeds.

However, NVMe drives are the most expensive option of the three. In addition, if you want to use them to their fullest potential, you must run the computer’s operating system from them. Some OS may not have NVMe support, so do your research before you buy.

How Much Hard Drive Space Do I Need?

Again, as with the question of RAM above, the answer to this is, “It depends.” Hard drive usage depends on what you intend to download and install, how much you plan to use your computer, and how often you clean your device. While you should make cleaning up your files a regular process, most people don’t.

If you only use your computer to stream Netflix or browse social media and don’t really create files on your computer, you can get away with something as small as a sixty-four gigabyte Chromebook. Once you start needing to compose documents, spreadsheets, and other documents, that space requirement doubles to a minimum of one hundred twenty-eight gigabytes.

If you work in the arts or game for fun, you should count on having at least five hundred gigabytes of hard drive space, if not a terabyte or more. Fully-rendered drawings can take up hundreds of megabytes of computer space, and it’s not unheard of for a single game to eat fifty gigs or more of storage.

RAM vs Hard Drive: Reviewing the Differences

Let’s take a moment to review the differences between RAM vs hard drive. Your computer’s RAM is its ability to multitask, recall information short-term, and process large projects. It affects your computer’s speed, rather than how much data it can store.

Your hard drive, by contrast, tells you how much information your computer can store long-term. It determines the limits of what programs you can install and what files you can download.

Now that you understand the difference between these two, you should be able to shop for your next computer with ease. If, however, you need more tech tips, check out our blog each day for more informative articles like this one!

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