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Difference Between Volatile and Non-Volatile Storage

Volatile vs Non-Volatile Storage

In any computer system, there are two types of storage, the primary or volatile storage and the secondary or non-volatile storage. The main difference between volatile and non-volatile storage is what happens when you turn-off the power. With non-volatile storage, as long as the data has already been written, it will remain for a considerable amount of time; typically hundreds of years. Volatile memory needs constant power in order to retain the stored data. Once the power goes out, the data is also lost instantly.

The characteristics of non-volatile storage make it ideal for storing data for long term storage. Good examples of which include hard drives, memory cards, optical discs, and ROMs. Volatile storage serves a totally different purpose than non-volatile storage since it cannot be used to reliably store information. Instead, it is used by the system to temporarily hold information. This is because of the inherent speed volatile memory, which is typically thousands of times faster than most non-volatile storage. Faster is better as it prevents the creation of a bottleneck as processers get faster and faster.

Because of their very different uses, there is also a major difference in terms of capacities. Volatile memory is quite expensive per unit so typical capacities of volatile memory tend to be lower; from MBs to a few GBs. In contrast, non-volatile storage is now reaching a few TB for hard drives, and in the range of GB for most solid state drives.

So if you have a device where you can expand both volatile and non-volatile storage, like most computers, upgrading volatile memory should give you enhanced system performance; especially when under heavy loads or doing multitasking. In comparison, upgrading your non-volatile storage should give you more space to save files. So you can install more applications and games while still having space for movies, music, and even large back-up files.

In the end, to get the most out of your money, you should inspect your system and see on what area the improvement is needed. The part that creates the bottleneck in your system is what you should improve.


  1. Non-volatile storage persists even without power while volatile storage does not
  2. Non-volatile storage exists in much larger capacities than volatile storage
  3. Volatile storage is much faster compared to non-volatile storage
  4. Volatile storage affects system performance while non-volatile storage affects storage capacity

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