Technical Terms: Storage and Memory

People often confuse storage and memory, but they are two different things in your computer and mobile devices. Memory is temporary and helps your device perform complex tasks. Storage is persistent and determines how much data you can keep on your device.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Technical Terms: Storage and Memory.

So let's take a look at some technical terms that sometimes people confuse or don't fully understand. Today we're going to look at two terms: storage and memory. A lot of times people use these terms interchangeably but they're very different things when it comes to actually describing what's in your device. Whether it's a Mac, an iPhone, or an iPad. A lot of time people just use the term space. They say, This is how much space I have or how much space I have left. This is really a vague term that could be used to describe either storage or memory. So it's important to be specific especially if you're asking for help from somebody. You want to go and talk about how much storage you have or how much memory you have. But not just some generic vague term like space.

So let's start by looking at Storage. With storage, storage is for long-term things. It's where you store files. Files can be images, they could be documents, it could be videos. These are stored in storage. This is persistent when you power off your device. That is one way to know for sure whether or not you're referring to something in storage or in memory. When you put something in storage and you turn off your device and turn it on again it's still there. If that's the case then it's in storage, not in memory.

Now typically we refer to the hard drive on the Mac or sometimes on the solid state drive, the SSD, as being storage. It's the same when it's an iOS device. In that case we don't have hard drives but we do have the equivalent SSD's, solid state storage devices, on there. Also, sometimes this is called Capacity. Most notably when you look at technical specs for Apple's products you'll see that this iPhone has a certain capacity. That's talking about storage.

Now memory is different. Memory is temporary. So when you turn off a device anything in memory is wiped. Now typically you don't just switch off your device right in the middle of doing something. But if you did any work you're doing is actually gone because it was stored in memory and not in storage. That's typically. Apps today are very smart and they try to save things periodically. So if there's a power failure or some sort of issue, some sort of crash, you're work is saved. So sometimes it could appear that stuff is in memory but it's actually in storage because it is being temporarily saved. It's just that in the past, years ago, you would have to manually save it. Now apps, a lot of times, will save documents for us automatically or save them just in case of emergency and you'll get the data back.

Memory is mostly about speed. It affects the speed of your device. The more memory you have the faster your device will be. It's not the only thing that affects speed. Certainly CPU speed is one and there's lots of other factors as well. But in general more memory equals more speed when doing things. Memory is also referred to as RAM. Random Access Memory. So if somebody said a device or MacBook has a certain amount of RAM they're talking about memory, not storage.

Now things get confusing because in today's modern computing devices sometimes memory is used for storage and sometimes storage is used for memory. What do I mean by this? Sometimes a file is temporarily stored in memory to have faster access to it because if you're always writing it out to say a hard drive and then reading it every time you need it, it can make it really slow to say edit an image or video or something like that. So sometimes memory is used to speedup storage.

The opposite, sometimes when you're low on memory, memory is off-loaded to storage which makes it slower to access. But for the most part, for typical users, you don't have to worry about this. Just know that memory and storage work together. Storage helps memory and memory helps storage. But basically memory that's RAM, that's temporarily there and not persistent when your computer is switched off and storage is persistent and it's where you put all of your stuff.

Typically when you talk about storage what you're really looking at is how much stuff can you fit on your device. If you want to put a lot of movies, a lot of photos, a lot of music onto a device you need more storage. If you're somebody that works with large images. You edit large images, you edit large videos. You need to store lots of files and lots of data. What you want is storage.

Now memory is going to affect speed as I said before and it really affects speed particularly when your talking about handling big tasks. So if you're editing a small, little image it probably doesn't really matter how much memory you've got. Even the minimum amount for a system is going to be fine. But say you're editing a high resolution full color magazine cover. It's just a huge file. Having more memory is going to make it easier for you to work with this file because things happen quicker. Commands are going to be executed faster. Instead of waiting a second or two for something to happen it will happen in a fraction of a second. This is particularly true when dealing with even larger files like video or large data sets. If you have more memory things are going to happen faster.

So when you want more memory in a machine when you're looking to buy one it is when you know you're going to be handling big tasks and you want that memory to be able to help you. So that basically summarizes the difference between memory and storage. I encourage you to try to use the correct term when you can rather than just saying something generic like space.