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What’s the Difference between Primary Storage and Secondary Storage?

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Data storage is one of the elementary yet fundamental functions that every computer performs. The storage device of your computer is its storage capacity and is primarily used to save the information or perform tasks efficiently. Data storage is categorized as a hierarchy of four levels: primary storage, secondary storage, tertiary storage, and offline. These levels of data storage are formed on the basis of methods that your computer is using to store data or information. 

Primary storage is the computer memory which typically refers to the random access memory (RAM). It refers to the main storage of the computer and is directly accessible by the CPU. It holds data and applications that your computer processor is currently working on. Then, there is secondary storage which refers to the external storage devices and stores high-volume data. The contents of the secondary storage devices firstly get transferred to the primary memory and then accessed by the processor. In this article, we have mentioned the difference between Primary Storage and Secondary Storage.

What is Primary Memory?

Primary Storage or Primary Memory is the volatile memory of the computer system. It mainly stores data or information that is directly accessed by the central processing unit (CPU). It is quite fast for users to access data from primary memory as it is an internal memory of the computer. The volatility of primary memory indicates that the data stored in it does not exist if there is a sudden power failure. 

The primary memory, like RAM or ROM, is a semiconductor memory that stores data for immediate access with minimum or no delay. However, the capacity of primary memory is very much limited as it stores data or applications for a short period of time. It is costlier in comparison to secondary memory and is always smaller compared to secondary memory.

RAM (Random Access Memory)

Random access memory or RAM is the main memory of the computer system. It tends to lose data as soon as your computer reboots or loses power. This is why it is called temporary memory or cache memory. The information stored in this type of memory is lost in case of sudden power loss. 

ROM (Read Only Memory)

ROM or Read Only Memory is a permanent type of memory. The data stored in this type of storage device is not lost when your device is switched off. The computer manufacturer is the only one who decides the information of ROM. This primary storage is permanently stored at the time of manufacturing and can not be overwritten by the user.

What is Secondary Storage?

Secondary storage is another ideal storage solution that is capable of storing high-volume data. It stores data or information on a long-term basis, more like permanently. Unlike primary storage, they are non-volatile in nature and are not directly accessed by the central processing unit. 

These storage devices are also known as auxiliary storage which can be used as both internal and external storage. Secondary storage is slow in comparison to primary one especially when it comes to data access. This is because they are not directly accessed by the I/O channels. However, you can save a huge amount of data, in the range of gigabytes to terabytes, using these storage devices. This memory is also known as backup storage or mass storage media.

Hard Drives

The hard drive is the secondary storage that stores the operating system, applications, and data files. You can store files, like documents, pictures and music, on the computer hard drive (or a hard disk or HDD). Many computers have hard drives as internal storage mediums. A system hard drive consists of a platter that contains fragments to hold data. You can apply the partition recovery methods if you have to recover data from these fragments of hard drives. HDDs can store a large amount of data and are relatively cheap. 

Optical Media

Optical media refers to a data storage device that uses optical data storage and retrieval techniques to read and write data. These storage devices store data digitally on a media device and use a laser to read data from it. You can use Optical storage to store any substantial amount of data. Optical media usually have high read speeds, capacity, and portability. That’s why they are known as better options to store millions of files including audio, video, documents, pictures, records, and more. 

Difference Between Primary and Secondary Storage

Here are some important highlights of the difference between Primary and Secondary storage devices:

Storage: 

Data storage is one of the important functions of a computer and is divided into primary and secondary storage. 

Primary storage is the main storage of the computer or main memory, i.e., the random access memory or RAM. Secondary storage, on the other hand, is the external storage device that can help you to store data on a long-term basis. 

Accessibility:

You can directly access the data or applications stored in the Primary storage with minimum or no delay. In contrast, you can use secondary storage to store and retrieve data permanently with no delay. 

Nature:

Being volatile in nature, the data stored in Primary storage gets deleted as soon as the device loses power, and it cannot be retained. Primary storage is commonly known as primary memory such as the RAM.

Secondary storage, commonly known as secondary memory, is a non-volatile memory that allows you to retain data even if the device loses power.

Speed:

All the programs and applications that are stored in main memory, i.e., Primary storage are easy to access. On the contrary, secondary storage stores your files as a long-term storage solution. The substantial data storage capacity of secondary memory makes them relatively slower than the primary one. 

Expense:

When it comes to the cost of using these storage devices, Primary storage is costlier than secondary storage. As explained above, secondary storage does not allow you to directly access data from the processor. Firstly, the data is copied from secondary memory to primary memory and then it is accessible to the CPU. To conclude this, you have to lower the price of secondary storage. 

Primary vs. Secondary Storage: Comparison Chart

Primary Storage Secondary Storage
Also known as Main memory or internal memory Also known as auxiliary memory or secondary memory
Data is processed directly from storage. Data is moved to primary storage from access.
It holds data or instructions that are currently in use It stores and retrieves data or information on a long-term basis.
It is volatile in nature It is non-volatile in nature. 
Data gets automatically lost when the device is shut down or losses power Data remains intact even if the device loses power.
It stores data or information with a maximum capacity of 16 to 32 GB It stores a substantial amount of data and information ranging from 200 GB to terabytes.
Primary memory is costlier than secondary memory. Secondary memory is cheaper than primary memory.
Example: RAM, ROM, and Cache Memory Example: HDD, DVD, CD, floppy disks, flash drives, etc. 

Data Deleted? Check How to Recover Them!

Instances may occur when data gets deleted from the primary or secondary storage devices. In such cases, you need to apply proper recovery methods or use an efficient data recovery tool to get the deleted files back. There are several tools available on the internet that you can use for this purpose. One of such popular tools is- Stellar Data Recovery Professional.

This professional data recovery software allows you to recover data from formatted, corrupted and encrypted drives. Some amazing features that make Stellar Data Recovery Professional best among others are:

  • Allows you to recover unlimited types of files, including documents, photos, etc.
  • Recovers data from RAW and inaccessible drive volumes.
  • The software can restore data from any storage media like HDD, SSD, USB flash, etc.
  • It can help you in all data loss situations such as corruption, virus attack, etc.
  • 100% reliable, accurate and efficient data recovery software.

Conclusion: 

Primary and secondary storage is an integral data storage hierarchy and provides fast and efficient access to computer resources. The primary storage provides fast and efficient access to resources, while the secondary storage offers a long-term retention solution for the massive amount of data. You can easily store your documents, photos, videos, and other files on these storage devices. 

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