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Long-Term vs. Short-Term Memory

Long-Term vs. Short-Term Memory - PCSTATS
Abstract: At the core of every computer is its capacity to remember things: sets of instructions, particular files you've created, how much memory is left, where you put your keys.
Filed under: Beginners Guides Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: none Jul 27 2000   J. Prikryl  
Home > Reviews > Beginners Guides > none

Long-Term Memory vs. Short-Term Memory

At the core of every computer is its capacity to remember things: sets of instructions, particular files you've created, how much memory is left, where you put your keys.

Computers store all this memory in two distinct ways. The main memory bank is called the hard drive. It stores all the files you save on your computer and all software programs you install. The capacity of a hard drive is usually somewhere around 50 gigabytes of memory (about 5,000 megagytes); while RAM can only deal with about 64 megs at a time.

RAM is a repository of all the programs and files you're operating at the moment. It stands for Random Access Memory, and can't be accessed in the long-term. As you type up a document, for instance, all the on-screen changes to make are effected through RAM; but once you hit your "save" button, the file is physically recorded on your hard drive.

If you were to break through your PC's plastic shell to get a peek at the actual, physical hard drive, you'd find a flat box about the size of a small notebook. Inside that box is one (or up to eight) "platters" -- disks that are slightly smaller than CDs, and a little thicker. They're made of glass or metal, coated with a magnetic film, and when your computer's on they clock several thousand revolutions per minute. The data on each platter is gleaned by "read-write heads," small arms that slide along the disks much like the needles on record players. Read-write heads scan both sides of each platter, and either retrieve previously stored information, or record new sets of data as you save it.

RAM, on the other hand, is constructed of a strip of small, flat chips. The entire component is no bigger than your toothbrush. As you work on your computer, these chips access memorized functions to let you, say, italicize a word or close a window.

Finally, as with all things in life, the hard drive and RAM are best seen in terms of a food analogy. If the hard drive were your pantry, RAM is the frying pan. You can't make anything without stirring it around on the stove; but you can't fry anything that wasn't stored in the pantry first. And when you're done with it, whatever's left goes back in the pantry. Or the fridge, freezer, whatever. Anyway, you get the point.


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