When it comes to a computer, there are so many basic computer terms like RAM, megahertz, gigabytes, etc. that people can find confusingthat leave people confused and asking questions like “What is memory?”, “What is a hard drive?”.
Having a better understanding of some of the lingo can help you feel more comfortable using your computer, helping you get better at them more easily.
A lot of people I talk to seem to be apologetic about their lack of knowledge. It’s too bad people feel that way; they really shouldn’t.
What I tell them is that while they may not know as much as I do about computers, there’s nothing wrong with that, and they probably know a lot of other things I don’t know anything about at all. All you need is someone who takes the time to explain things to you in a way that makes sense.
One term many people confuse is memory (also known as RAM), and hard drive storage space.
RAM stands for Random Access Memory (don’t worry, you don’t need to remember that!). It is a temporary working space the computer uses to get work done, which gets emptied when the computer is turned off.
Think of it like a work bench or table. You have a project you’re working on and you do your project on the bench and when you’re done, you put everything away.
The hard drive is the main place your computer uses to store information. It looks like a rectangular metal box about 3.5″ wide (or 2.5″ on a laptop), which contains a non-removable disk. It is the disk inside the drive which stores everything.
Think of it as a storage shed where you store the tools or materials for your project — when you want to work on something you choose the things you need from the storage shed, put them on the bench and work on the project.
This is like when you run a program; the computer loads the program from the hard drive into memory.
So the larger the space, the more you can store — so in other words the more programs you can have installed, the more songs or pictures or videos you can save on your computer.
Many people accidentally call their computer (the big box-like thing hooked up to the screen) a hard drive, but this is based on a misunderstanding. Both RAM and the hard drive are parts located inside of the computer, and most people never actually see these parts.
Most people with a computer made in the last few years have much more space than they’ll ever have any hope of filling. Few people ever fill them up, unless they are downloading a lot of large files such as music or pictures, or especially video files. Saving entire movies on your computer can really eat up space very quickly.
If someone tells you need more memory, or or you get an error message about being low on memory, this usually means you don’t have enough RAM. This can slow your computer down drastically.
Think of the bench idea again: if your bench is very small, you can’t fit everything you need on it to get your work done, so you’re constantly wasting time moving stuff off and back onto the table to get your work done, if you can even get any work done at all.
Both RAM and hard drive space are measured with the same terms: kilobytes (KB), megabytes (MB), and gigabytes (GB). This may be one reason people confuse the two pieces of jargon.
So why is it that you buy a computer one year that has a lot of RAM, and two or three years go by, why do people tell you you need to get more memory? This is because each year the average size of software, and the amount of memory it requires, gets larger.
It’s as if the tools you use on your workbench keep growing every year so you eventually have to get a larger bench.
If your computer seems to be running more slowly recently, or you’ve been having odd errors, it could be that you need to upgrade your memory, which doesn’t cost much to do and can add life to your computer. It’s not a cure-all for a slow computer, but it can make a real difference.
Remember, computer basics and the jargon doesn’t have to be confusing, just as long as you get a simple explanation!
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