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Primary and Secondary Storage: What's the Difference?

By Edited Jun 6, 2015 0 1

The typical computer user tends to have a common misconception about primary and secondary storage.  This wrong idea is that primary storage is where someone stores their data on a regular basis and secondary storage is a backup location to make a duplicate copy data.  Here is a concise yet informative explanation of the two.

Primary Storage: The Workbench

Another good term directly related to primary storage is temporary storage.  Any data that is currently being used for calculations or being modified can be considered to be located in primary storage.  With this being said, Random-Access Memory, or RAM, is the hardware component that is used to store data primarily.  A good analogy

Primary Storage
to help you envision this is comparing this type of storage to the tools and parts a mechanic may have on his work bench.  These items, or data, are currently in use.  Once the mechanic finishes his work he puts everything away and thus his “information” goes to secondary storage.

Secondary Storage

Secondary Storage
Secondary storage is simply used to store data that is not being altered.  When your computer needs to access data, it reads it into memory from its location in secondary storage.  This type can come in many different forms and devices.  These include, but are not limited to, hard drives, flash drives, optical disks and more.


Another difference between the two is access speed.  The RAM, or primary storage, modules are stored on the motherboard and access the CPU directly.  This allows for a lot quicker access.  Secondary storage has a longer path to follow when communicating with the CPU and is slower.


Secondary storage is a lot cheaper than primary.  If they were the same cost for the same amount of capacity, everyone would likely opt for using RAM instead of hard drives and other secondary storage devices.  However, there is a kicker that comes into place in the next section, which trumps this theory.

Once The Power is Gone, So is the RAM Data

Ram is termed as volatile memory.  What this means is that once there is no power to the memory module, all the data is erased.  So really if you think of storing something and coming back to use it later, RAM does not provide this idea of storage because the data is volatile.  Secondary storage on the other hand still stores data even after the power is turned off.

Still Confused?

If you still seem a bit overwhelmed by this, don’t get too down about it.  The more time you take reading things such as this the more you will learn.  Everyone has to start somewhere.  There are all kinds of sources of information on computers written specifically for beginners.  Patience is the key here. 



Oct 23, 2012 2:58pm
There are a lot of people who don't know this. I like when things are explained in a simple way, so that beginners can also understand. :)
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