Difference between Volatile and Non-volatile memory

Published on June 9, 2015

One will often come across the phrase “memory” in the field of computer hardware. Memory is any device that stores information. This article will help explain the difference between two kinds of memory: volatile and non-volatile.

Definitions

Volatile memory

Volatile memory is computer memory that requires an active power connection to function. When the power to a volatile memory source is shut off, volatile memory loses its contents, and the information is deleted. The most common form of volatile memory used in computers today is random access memory, or RAM, various sticks of which are in the picture above. RAM is used to temporarily hold data that is required to run programs or applications on a computer or similar electronic device.

The advantages of volatile memory are: it functions fast, and it is well-suited to protecting sensitive information. When the power source is shut down, the information is quickly deleted.

Non-volatile memory

Non-volatile memory is memory that does not require a connection to a power source to retain information. In other words, when the power source to which the memory is connected is shut off, the memory does not lose the information it has. Common examples of non-volatile memory are computer hard-disk drives, seen in the picture above, or flash drives. Hard-disk drives hold more long-term data such as files and documents. The advantage of non-volatile memory is longer-term retention of information.

Comparison chart

Volatile memoryNon-volatile memory
Requires a power source to retain information.Does not require a power source to retain information.
When power source is disconnected, information is lost or deleted.When power source is disconnected, information is not deleted.
Often used for temporary retention of data, such as with RAM, or for retention of sensitive data.Often used for long-term retention of data, such as files and folders.

Volatile vs Non-volatile memory

What are the differences between volatile and non-volatile memory? They are:

  • Requirement (or lack thereof) of a power source for storage.
  • Usage and advantage of each kind of memory.

Where volatile memory requires a power source to retain its information, a non-volatile memory source does not. If the power source to volatile memory is shut down, the volatile memory will have its information quickly deleted. If the power source to non-volatile memory is shut down, the non-volatile memory retains its information.

Volatile memory is often used because it is faster, as well as because it is better suited to retaining sensitive information because shutting off a power source can quickly delete that information. Random access memory, or RAM, is a form of volatile memory. RAM is used to temporarily hold the data required to run programs and applications on an electronic device.

Non-volatile memory is used because it is better suited to long-term retention of information. An example of a non-volatile memory device is a computer hard-disk drive, which is used to hold data such as files and documents.

Video

The videos below explain RAM, a source of volatile memory, and non-volatile memory. The first video explains RAM through Lego, and the second video explains non-volatile memory.