Difference between Memory and Storage

Published on August 30, 2015

Memory and storage are two terms that are regularly used to mean the same thing in computer technology. The reason for this is that some devices designed as memory also act as storage devices. There is however a distinction between the two terms. This article discusses the differences.


Memory vs Storage
RAM (random access memory)

Memory is a generic term referring to the components and devices that the computer uses to store data and instructions. It’s subdivided into cache memory, primary memory and secondary memory. Cache memory is high speed memory that’s installed on the motherboard. It’s fixed in nature. Primary memory is divided into ROM (read only memory), and RAM (random access memory). It’s here that data and instructions needed to execute a program are stored. Secondary memory is used to store data and information permanently and includes the hard disk.

Hard disk drive
Hard disk drive

Storage is where programs and other data can be stored permanently. It can also refer to temporary storage which is offered by devices normally meant for memory. Storage holds data and programs in such a way that it can be accessed by the processor through the computer memory. Storage includes hard disk drives and removable devices such as optical disks and memory cards.

Comparison Chart

Includes cache, primary and secondary memoryIncludes storage devices such as optical disks, hard disks and memory cards
Easy retrieval of dataSlower access than memory
Computer will not run without itComputer can be used even without it
Upgradeable but expensiveUpgradeable and affordable
Uses semiconductor chipsUses magnetic disk technology, optical technology and semiconductor technology

Memory vs Storage

So what is the difference between memory and storage? Let’s find this out based on types, data access speeds, computer system dependence, cost and technology used.

  • Memory can refer to any device that stores data and instructions either temporarily or permanently for execution. It includes cache, primary and secondary memory. Storage on the other hand includes storage devices which store data and programs in a semi-permanent or permanent state. The stored data and programs can be accessed by the memory for processing.
  • Memory is quite fast. The access of data and instructions by the processor needs to be extremely fast to enable efficiency of the computer system. Access to data and programs in storage is relatively slow. This can be seen when you try to watch a DVD video using a computer. The computer will take a few seconds before it identifies the storage media (DVD), reads its contents and runs the appropriate program to enable video watching.
  • The computer system needs installed memory to run. The memory is the location where all data and instructions needed to execute a program are stored. The storage on the other hand is optional.
  • Memory can be upgraded by installing higher capacity chips. They are relatively expensive given that they use high speed technology. Upgrading storage is cheaper since storage devices use slower technology.
  • Memory mainly uses semiconductor chip technology. It’s quite fast but expensive. Storage on the other hand mainly uses magnetic and optical technology. However, emerging trends in storage are making used of solid state drives and semiconductor technology. 


To get more information regarding memory to storage, here is a video to watch.