In 2020, traditional personal computer sales rose by a staggering 13.1% from the year before. All in all, PC makers shipped a whopping 302 million PCs that year.
What’s more, experts say that sales will continue to spike throughout the half of 2021. One reason for this is the laptop shortage that occurred halfway through 2020. Now that shipments have resumed, more people who couldn’t buy last year would now be able to.
If you’re one of these folks, it’s best you first learn what makes laptop memory vs. storage different. This way, you can buy a new device with specs designed to be future-proof for at least the next three to five years.
To that end, we created this guide on the chief differences between memory and storage.
Read on to discover what they are so that you can invest in a new laptop that you can rely on for several years.
What Exactly Is Laptop Memory?
In computers, be it laptops or desktops, the term “memory” often refers to Random Access Memory (RAM). It pertains to a device’s temporary data location. It’s also a volatile type of memory, which means it retains information only as long as it gets a supply of power.
For that reason, the data contained in the RAM disappears once you turn a computer off.
What About Laptop Storage?
Storage refers to permanent, non-volatile data containers. These include hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs). They contain saved information, from files to programs.
Since it’s non-volatile, data within the storage doesn’t go away when you turn the device off. The saved information remains in the drive so long as you don’t delete or overwrite it. Optical discs, USB drives, and external hard drives are other types of storage.
The Interplay Between Memory and Storage
When you run a computer application, your CPU taps the storage where the software and data both are. The CPU then copies both the software and the data to the RAM, which then reads the copied information. The RAM processes any other real-time changes or tasks in the software and data.
If you make a permanent change to the software or data, the RAM processes these instructions. The updates then get copied or written back to the storage. With the saved changes now in storage, you’ll see them the next time you run the software and access the data in it.
Examples of Laptop Memory at Play
Suppose you need to write an essay using Microsoft Word. To launch MS Word, you need to click on its icon, which we’ll assume is on your desktop. That icon-clicking action prompts your laptop to load MS Word into the RAM, so memory is already in play here.
Once MS Word is open, the RAM now has the role of running this particular software. Your laptop’s memory processes every action you do on MS Word, such as writing the essay itself. It’s also the RAM that lets you add photos, highlight text, or italicize words in MS Word.
Now, let’s say you’ve finished writing the essay, but before you can instruct MS Word to save it, your laptop goes off. In this case, RAM’s volatility renders you unable to retrieve all that work you did. Again, that’s because RAM is temporary, so all the data it holds get deleted without power.
Another example of laptop memory at work is browsing the World Wide Web. Depending on the browser type you use, 10 active tabs can have a RAM consumption of anywhere from 725 MB to 3 GB. Your browser uses your laptop’s memory to access the information you need in real-time.
Just like with MS Word, if your laptop turns off, all your active browser tabs disappear, too. You’d have to relaunch the browser software so that you can re-access the tabs you visited.
Situations Wherein Storage Does It Job
All software, including your laptop’s operating system and apps, is in the storage. The same goes for all your saved files, such as text documents, photos, audio, and videos.
When you first turn your laptop on, it taps the storage drive to run your operating system. The exact thing happens whenever you launch an app, such as when you open MS Word, Chrome, or Zoom. These applications are all in your storage, as they are permanent data in your computer.
Another example is when you save an MS Word document. If you save it before your laptop turns off, then the data gets permanently stored in the storage. You can access that file later, and you’ll see all that you’ve worked on (and saved) reflected on that document.
Your laptop’s storage also plays a role in your browser activities. The sites you visit get logged into the browser’s temporary cache file. This cache is on your device’s hard drive, which is why you can easily access your browser history.
Other Key Differences Between Laptop Memory and Storage
Aside from volatility and permanence, memory and storage also differ in speed. A RAM disk can be up to 70 times faster than a traditional hard disk drive. Even if you have a solid-state drive, your RAM still beats the SSD’s speed by at least 20 times.
However, laptop memory capacity is usually only a fraction of storage capacity. For example, older laptops have 2 to 4 GB memory, although 8 GB is the standard for newer models. Higher-end workstations and premier gaming laptops can even house 24 to 32 GB of RAM.
By contrast, today’s entry laptops have at least 256 to 512 GB of storage. According to Lenovo.com, larger ones can have up to 2 TB of storage capacity. This immense capacity is due to the role of storage being a permanent data location.
Laptop Memory vs. Storage: What’s More Important?
Both are vital to your laptop’s operation because neither will work without the other.
Without enough memory, it will be hard for your laptop to perform many simultaneous tasks. For example, opening too many apps at the same time will cause a drop in your device’s speed and performance. Your computer will lag, and from there, likely overheat and experience app crashes.
Memory shortages can also lead to your RAM tapping your storage. The longer this goes on, the more of your storage that gets depleted, too.
Without enough storage, you won’t be able to download new apps and save new files. You’d have to keep deleting old saved data to make way for new ones.
Running out of storage also puts you at risk of failed software updates and patches. This, in turn, can put you at risk of malware. Do note that up to a third of cybersecurity breaches are due to unpatched software.
How Much Memory Should Your Laptop Have Then?
To determine how much memory you need, make a list of all the computing activities you usually do. Be sure to note the specific software or applications you use for these tasks, too. This can help you gauge your typical RAM usage, which you can then use as a guide when buying a new device.
At the very least, set aside at least 1 to 2 GB for browser RAM usage. Add another 1 to 2 GB if you use MS Office. If you need apps like Photoshop, know that their installation now requires 8 GB of memory.
If you usually just use many browser tabs plus MS Office, an 8 GB RAM capacity will suffice. If you have to use creative apps like PS with these two, it’s best to go with at least 16 GB. If you’re thinking of playing modern high-spec video games, 16 GB of RAM would also be great.
What About Laptop Storage Capacity?
Your laptop must have at least 200 MB of hard drive space to download a browser like Firefox. Microsoft Office 365 requires at least 3 GB of disk space storage. Adobe Photoshop also needs no less than 4 GB of available space.
Those three don’t even sum up to 10 GB, but it’s doubtful you only need those three. Even if you only install 30 programs that require 3 GB of space each in your laptop, that would already amount to 90 GB.
That 90 GB doesn’t even include the space needed by all your other files. That’s why it a good idea to go with a laptop storage capacity of at least 256 GB if you’re an average user. If you have the budget, though, considering going for 512 GB.
Don’t Let Your Laptop’s Short- and Long-Term Memory Fail You
There you have it, all the key facts you need to know when it comes to laptop memory vs. storage. Just remember that memory is for the short-term, while storage is for the long-term. At the very least, average users should get at least 8 GB of memory and stick to no less than 256 GB of storage.
Those specs, plus proper laptop care, can help you make your device last for no shorter than three years.
Ready for more guides like this to help you boost your tech-savviness? Feel free to check out our other geeky and educational posts then!