RAM vs. Hard Drive: What’s the Difference? Which One is Better?

Close up of microATX motherboard MS-6390 with an AMD Athlon processor in a Socket 462 slot

RAM vs. Hard Drive: What’s the Difference? Which One is Better?

RAM vs. Hard Drive: Full Comparison

Think back to the last time your computer ran slowly: do you remember how frustrated you felt waiting for your application to load? If you use your computer heavily, there’s a big chance that its slowness had something to do with its memory.

But how do you know which one to improve? When comparing your RAM and hard drive, the major difference lies in reading speed and storage capacity.

Keep reading for more on how these pieces of hardware work and which one benefits you more.

Hard drive
Hard drives are primarily used for things like long-term storage of infrequently used files and application storage.

©Sergey Ko/Shutterstock.com

RAM vs. Hard Drive: A Side-by-Side Comparison

RAMHard Drive
Average Read Speed2-100 GBps80-160 MBps
Average Storage Space8 GB, 16 GB, 32 GB128 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB, 4 TB
Average Cost$120-$500$50-$250
Primary ManufacturersCorsair, HyperX, G. Skill, Kingston, PatriotHewlett-Packard (HP), Seagate, Western-Digital, SanDisk
Primary FunctionStore temporary data for quick access, application functionLong-term storage for infrequently used files, application storage

RAM vs. Hard Drive: 5 Key Points and Must-Know Facts

  • RAM stands for random access memory and is used for quick access to temporary files.
  • RAM sticks have much smaller storage capacity but incredible read speeds.
  • Hard disk drives (HDDs) are used for long-term storage of infrequently used files.
  • Hard drives can sometimes store terabytes of data compared to megabytes of RAM storage.
  • Both affect the speed of your computer if they reach its storage limit.

RAM vs Hard Drive: What’s the Difference?

Computer RAM sticks on a black background
RAM sticks are an important part of a computer’s proper functionality.

©Lushchikov Valeriy/Shutterstock.com


When you turn on your computer, open up Google Chrome, and search for the latest article on History Computer, you might not know that your device made several actions requiring data.

Your computer would run slow if it had to store all that data in the typical place, so it uses random access memory (RAM) as a shortcut of sorts. RAM gives your device a place to hold information for a short term so it can quickly find what it’s looking for and dispose of it when it’s finished.

One of the major uses of random access memory on a computer is its ability to read data at an incredible rate. Especially when reading data considered to be random, RAM can process information thousands of times faster than from standard memory drives. Imagine your search information didn’t have RAM to store in; could you wait all that extra time?

Where RAM components fall short is in their storage capacity. The typical amount of RAM a desktop comes equipped with is about 8GB. That’s maybe enough space to store four or five movies. But, that’s okay, because RAM isn’t designed to hold on to big data; in fact, it will actually dispose of any files saved on it after the computer shuts down. This helps keep your device free of inconsequential data and allows it to run smoothly.

When searching for the latest RAM technology, you can expect to pay quite a bit. For an 8GB stick, you’re looking at a baseline of about $60. Companies like Kingston and Patriot build more affordable models but, for those looking at RAM for gaming, Corsair sits at the top.

Computer memory RAM DRAM SRAM
RAM is used for your computer’s short-term memory storage.

Hard Drive

So, if you’re not storing movies on RAM, where does it go? The computer’s hard disk drive (HDD) is where most of the information that isn’t used frequently goes. While they’re a little dated compared to solid state drives (SSD), they’re still functional in computers for long-term storage.

When comparing RAM and hard drive, read speed is where the major distinction lies. Most HDDs can read at about 80MBps. If you’re loading up a movie, that means it will have it ready in about 20 seconds. Of course, some movie players might use portions of the downloaded file to start it quicker, making it seem faster than it actually is.

But, download speed isn’t what hard drives are designed for. Where they lack in quickness, they make up for in storage capacity. The bulk of modern HDDs has the ability to store up to a terabyte and even more. For reference, a terabyte has about 125x the capacity of a typical 8GB stick of RAM.

The price of HDD storage is incredibly affordable compared to RAM sticks. You can find 1TB of HDD storage for about $50. And, for those looking for the highest quality to store video games, Western Digital offers a 2TB model for $150. Keep an eye out for other brands, including Seagate, Toshiba, and Samsung.

Hard disk drive
Hard disk drives (HDDs) are home to longer-term memory storage for information that isn’t used frequently.


RAM vs. Hard Drive: Which One is Better?

When it comes down to choosing between RAM and a hard drive, you have to understand how you plan on using your computer.

The major differences between the two come in reading speed and storage capacity. While both of them play an important role in the function of your device, you can definitely increase its performance one way or another with these two pieces of hardware.

Increased RAM will speed up the functions of your computer; the more random access memory you have the more programs you can run.

This is especially useful for gamers that play high-demand games. For example, video games like Batman: Arkham Knight, which has an incredibly detailed and expansive map, require at least 16GB of ram and recommend even more for proper gameplay.

However, if you use your computer for tasks like photo and video editing, having larger storage is essential. With a myriad of editing programs and a huge library of media, having a large memory space keeps your computer running smoothly while you’re working. 

Up Next

It’s critical to understand how different hardware influences the performance of your devices. If you’re considering upgrading your computer, check out these articles below for in-depth guides on the latest technology.

RAM vs. Hard Drive: What’s the Difference? Which One is Better? FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is RAM better than hard drive?

Many people emphasize the speed of RAM as it relates to video gaming and OS functionality. Essentially, the more RAM a computer has, the more functions it can perform at a time. Ultimately, it comes down to what you use your computer for.

What is the difference between RAM and hard drive?

RAM is used for quick access to temporary files. Its primary function allows for quick OS and application functions, and it often deletes files when the computer shuts off. Hard drives store long-term files that are used less frequently. Their primary function is for storing large application files.

Is 16 GB RAM good?

16 GB of RAM is enough to run many of today’s video games at high performance. This amount of random access memory is preferable for those that use their computer to perform several functions at once.

Why is RAM more expensive than hard drive?

RAM is more expensive than hard drives because they directly influence the front-end micro-performance of a computer. While both have an effect on a computer’s speed as they reach capacity, RAM fills up much quicker.

Is 32 GB of RAM overkill?

The vast majority of computer functions work perfectly on 8 GB of RAM. While some programs might require 16 GB to run, virtually none require 32 GB. That much random access memory is only recommended at an enterprise level for its value.

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