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by JB Burke

Q. Sometimes computer terminology stumps me. For instance, what's computer memory? Is it the same as RAM? Or Disk? Please explain.

A. There are important distinctions between various parts of your computer that are good to understand. RAM (Random Access Memory) is where your programs and data are stored as your computer is running. When you shut off your computer, the contents of RAM disappears – that's why it's important to save all your work and shut down the computer properly, instead of just hitting the power switch. It's also important to periodically save your work (documents, spreadsheets, etc.) while you work, in case the computer experiences a power glitch or other failure. RAM is typically 1 to 8 GB (gigabytes) on your PC.

The Hard Disk Drive (HDD) consists of physical spinning platters that store information magnetically. Because they store information (programs, databases, documents, photos, etc.) magnetically, the data doesn't disappear when power goes off. Your HDD also has a much greater capacity than RAM – these days anywhere from 150 GB to 2 TB (terabytes). A terabyte is equivalent to 1,000 gigabytes. Your computer can have more than one HDD, sometimes inside the case (for a tower system) or attached externally (via USB). Each will have its own drive letter (C, D, etc.)

Finally, thumb drives are small devices that plug into a USB port, and appear to your system as another HDD, with their own drive letter. They don't lose their contents when without power, and can be used like floppies were in the “olde” days.

Published: Courier 2/20/11 - Page 7C