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Data Storage 101: Everything You Need To Know

September 21, 2023

Functionality of Data Storage

data storage

What is Data Storage

Data storage refers to retaining data in electromagnetic or other forms using computers or devices. The information is kept in a digital format and may be retrieved and accessed at a later time. The methods and technologies used to store data vary greatly, ranging from traditional like hard data storage to new ones like cloud storage.



Some data are stored temporarily, and some are stored for a long period of time. Most of the data stays inside the computer or device, while others are made to be portable which can be used on various devices or kept in other locations. There are many forms of data storage that can be ideal for different purposes.


Hierarchy of Storage


Primary Storage

Primary storage is a medium that holds memory and can be classified as volatile or non-volatile. It is also referred to as main memory, main storage, internal memory, and primary memory. Primary storage houses programs, and applications currently in use for short periods of time. It provides fast and direct access to the CPU, allowing active programs to deliver optimal and efficient performance.


An example of this storage would be the RAM which is a volatile memory. The RAM loses data as soon as the computer or device power is turned off. While the flash memory in solid-state drives is non-volatile because the data remains even after the device loses power.


Photo from Wikimedia Commons


Secondary Storage

Secondary storage is a non-volatile device or media that is not constantly accessible by a computer system. It is also referred to as secondary memory, external memory, and auxiliary storage. This storage holds data permanently until it is overwritten or deleted.


Examples of secondary storage include portable flash drives, external hard drives, CDs and DVDs. These media and devices must either be inserted or plugged into a computer to be accessed by the system. They are commonly used for backing up data since they are not always connected to the computer.


Tertiary Storage

Tertiary storage or tertiary memory typically involves a robotic mechanism. Depending on the system’s demands, it will mount and dismount removable mass storage media into a storage device. Such data is often copied to secondary storage before use.


Tertiary storage includes optical disks, optical tapes, and magnetic tapes. These devices are composed of fixed storage drives and removable media units. If there is a media unit in the storage drive, the old media unit is ejected, then the new media unit is loaded to the drive.


Background of CD and DVD discs laid out on a flat surface


Offline Storage

Offline storage is any storage medium that is non-volatile and must be physically inserted into a system for a user to access or edit data. The stored data remains permanently in the device even if it is disconnected or unplugged from the computer. Offline storage can be any type of internal or external storage.


Examples include USB thumb drives, compact disks, and floppy disks. This storage does not interact directly with the CPU, making an ideal use for data transport and backup. It protects files from events such as being corrupted by a computer virus or hardware failure due to power outage.


Introduction of RAM and ROM


What is RAM and the function

RAM stands for random access memory and is one of the most fundamental components of a computer system. It is a short-term memory because it only stores any information temporarily, and all the data and files on it will be lost once the computer’s power is turned off. Such files may include various programs like the operating system, etc.


Photo by Alessio Scardigno from Pixabay


But compared to other types of data storage such as the hard drive, RAM allows quick access to files. It is a temporary type of data storage device that keeps files handy while the computer is still switched on. RAM is very fast, making it ideal for the browser and applications that are currently running and actively working on your computer. It also allows you to access multiple programs at once. With that said, RAM plays an important role in improving the system speed, efficiency, and performance of your computer.


What is ROM and its function

ROM, or read-only memory, is a type of storage medium that stores data permanently on computers and other electronic devices. Unlike the RAM, it is read-only, meaning it is non-volatile and cannot be changed. The ROM holds the memory and keeps its contents even after the computer’s power is turned off. It is mostly used for firmware updates. Another example would be the cartridge used with video game consoles, ROM allows one system to run multiple games at once.


Photo from Wikimedia Commons


You can find numerous ROM chips located on the computer’s motherboard and on some expansion boards. These chips are essential in storing important information that controls the basic functionality of your computer. This information can only be read and hardly be edited. It includes the basic input and output system (BIOS), boot up, basic data management, software for basic processes, and reading and writing to peripheral devices. 


Computer Data Storage


Laptop data storage. Filing cabinet on a


How to check computer storage?

To check your computer storage on Windows, you can proceed to the Settings and click System. Find the Storage tab which is the option on the upper-left side of the display. There you will find the Local Storage of your computer. It shows an image of your hard drive with “Number used” and “Number free” categories below. The Number used tells you how much storage is being used by your computer’s hard drive, while the Number free tells you the remaining free space.


For Mac, you can find the Apple logo in the top-left corner of the screen and click About This Mac. There is a Storage tab at the top of the “About This Mac” window which will show your Mac’s hard drive space. You can review your computer storage by looking at the color-coded breakdown of programs taking up the most space.


Why is storage needed in a computer?

Computers need storage for several reasons. Fundamentally, it is a very important part of a system that provides a significant function of retaining information and data. At the input stage, storage is required as a basic working space to carry out computational tasks. While at the output stage, it allows us to interpret the results of the processing that had gone through the input stage. The computer storage is also directly connected to the central processing unit or CPU. It helps the CPU to function properly and operate its tasks. Storage comes in two forms: temporary and long-term storage.


Importance of data storage and backup

Data storage and backup is essential to protect and save your important files. It is critical in the event of a system crash, database corruption, or if a hard drive failure occurs. Storing your files and having a backup will allow you to recover your data quickly if you lost them. It will help you to start everything from where you left off. Data storage and backup is a good way to secure and safeguard your files from any unwanted losses.

How to select suitable data storage for yourself?


Data Storage Size

There are lots of different data storage to choose from. The first thing you must consider is the amount of storage you will need. Various devices carry various data storage sizes. For instance, smaller devices like USB thumb drives and SD cards provide at least 1 GB to 32 GB of storage. While HDDs or SSDs can hold up to 1 TB of storage. Even devices such as smartphones and tablets come with built-in storage ranging from 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, 256GB or 512GB.


Photo from pxfuel



Next, you need to make sure that your data storage is compatible with your devices. For example, your DVD or Blu-ray Disc must be played in a DVD or Blu-Ray player. SD cards are compatible with various devices, provided they accept the implementation of this type of storage. Cloud storage, on the other hand, allows compatibility with many different devices as long there is a connection.



Another data storage feature you should look into is the portability. It allows you to easily carry, transport, and transfer data anywhere. Portable storage devices include external hard drives, USB drives (thumb drives), flash drives, and portable CD or DVD-ROM drives. A newer and popular example also includes cloud storage. These devices have capacities that range from 512 MB, 2 GB, and even up to 20 TB of data.


Photo from Needpix


Transfer Speed

The data transfer speed is important as it tells you how much data will travel in a specific period of time. It is measured in bits per second or bytes per second. But with today’s technology, it is now possible to transfer large amounts of data at faster speeds. You are now more likely to see it measured in megabits per second (Mbps) or megabytes per second (MBps), some are measured in kilobytes per second (KBps). Transfer speed varies for different types of media, connections, or versions of USB.


Cost of data storage

Depending on the device and its size, the cost of data storage varies greatly. For example, a USB drive of less than 2 GB will cost between $7 to $13. A basic DVD can cost around $15, while a Blu-ray disc can cost around $20 to $30. Additionally, a 500 GB SSD costs around $60 to $150, while a 500 GB HDD costs between $25 and $50.


Types of Data Storage

SSD (Solid-State Drive)

By making use of flash-based memory, SSDs run much faster and smoother compared to traditional hard disks. They make up the accepted or default choice in budget laptops and desktops and are generally value for money.


To save time, give our ultimate SSD buying guide a read: it includes factors of consideration when buying an SSD, top SSDs and more. You’ll never need another guide.


What does it do?

Solid-state drive or SSD is a type of storage media that stores persistent data on flash memory chips, like a USB drive, smartphone, or slimline tablet. It is also sometimes referred to as solid-state disks or flash drives. Compared to the hard disk drive, it is a newer and faster type of device that retains data even without power. Since the drive does not have to wait for any kind of platter to spin to the right point, it makes it much easier to access information at high speed. All of the memory chips are also instantly accessible at the same time.


How does it help the user?

SSDs, in general, make systems boot up quicker. They make working or web browsing experience on a PC or Mac much more responsive and snappy. Companies focused on programming environments or data analysis often rely on SSDs. Since they are working with huge amounts of data, access times and file-transfer speeds are critical. Aside from that, SSD provides better gaming performance. It makes games load and files write faster. Since it has low power requirements, SSDs contribute to better battery life in laptops and tablets and reduce the chances of data loss.


Is it affordable?

Compared to hard drives, SSDs are more expensive in terms of dollars per gigabyte since they are newer and faster devices. A 500 GB SSD costs around $60 to $150, while a 500 GB HDD costs between $25 and $50 for faster, higher-end models. But the price varies based on supply and demand, and the numbers will continue to change over time.


HDD (Hard Disk Drive)


Old is still relevant, as illustrated by these reliable HDDs: check out our HDD buying guide for the lowdown on these devices and learn how to snag the best possible deals.


What does it do?

Hard disk drive or HDD is usually the largest and the main data storage hardware device in a computer. It is referred to as HD, HDD, or hard drive. The HDD is installed internally and directly attached to the disk controller of the computer’s motherboard. Using a magnetic head, data is written to the mechanical platters and moves rapidly over them as they spin. The examples of data that are stored in the hard disk drive include the operating system, the user’s personal files, installed software, and other files.


How does it help the user?

HDD stores and keeps the user’s data even when it is powered off. That’s why you can still have access to all the data even if you restart your computer. The capacity of the hard disk drive is also a huge factor in determining what particular device (phone or laptop) to buy. If there are lots of storage capacity, it can handle more data. Unlike a small storage capacity, where it can fill up with files faster. HDD is capable of storing lots of data for a much cheaper price.


Is it affordable?

Hard disk drives are cheaper than solid-state drives since they are slower than the latter. HDDs cost around $0.2-$0.03 per GB average. A faster, higher-end model would cost between $25 and $50.


Thumb Drive


Instantly master the know-hows of choosing the perfect product with our comprehensive thumb drive buying guide. Don’t miss out on our exclusive tips!


What does it do?

Thumb drive is commonly known as a USB drive. This small drive contains only an integrated circuit memory chip that can hold more than several gigabytes of data. The size may range from 2 GB to 1 TB. Unlike hard disk drives, it has a solid-state construction and has no moving parts. It allows storing, reading, and writing data without magnetic properties.


How does it help the user?

USB thumb drives are useful in storing, transferring, and backing up computer files. It allows portability and fast transfer rates due to its small size. Thumb drives also have different storage capacities according to the user’s needs. They range from 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB. This type of storage is ideal for storing movies, music files, and Word documents.


Is it affordable?

The price of a thumb drive depends mostly on storage capacity. The higher the capacity, it will most likely cost more. Thumb drives that offer data encryption features cost higher as well. For USB drives that are less than 2 GB, they cost between $7 to $13. These range in the following capacities: 256 MB, 512 MB, and 1 GB. If you add a few more dollars, you can usually get a 2 GB thumb drive.


Blu-Ray Disc


We’ve done all the research for you, so you can sit back and take it easy: here’s our ultimate buying guide on blu-ray discs, which includes the important factors for consideration.


What does it do?

Blu-ray is an optical disc format developed for recording and playback of high-definition (HD) video and audio. It can hold and store large amounts of data, photos, and other digital content. Blu-rays discs have more storage capacity than traditional DVDs. A CD can store 700 MB of data, while a basic DVD can store 4.7 GB of data. But a single Blu-ray disc can store up to 25 GB of data, which is about 13 hours of standard video and more than two hours of high-definition video. A dual-layer Blu-ray disc can hold 50 GB of data; that is equivalent to 4.5 hours of high-definition video or more than 20 hours of standard video.


How does it help the user?

Blu-ray discs also offer a new level of interactivity by allowing users to connect to the Internet. They can instantly download subtitles and access and other interactive movie features. The user can record high-definition television (HDTV) without any quality loss, record a program while watching another, and instantly skip to any spot on the disc. They can also create playlists, edit or re-order programs recorded on the disc, and automatically search for an empty space on the disc.


Is it affordable?

Because of its interactive features, the price of Blu-ray discs is higher than standard DVDs. A DVD can cost around $15, while a Blu-ray disc can cost around $20 to $30.




We know you can’t resist money-saving hacks – neither can we. Click here to know everything there is to know about DVDs and DVD storage.


What does it do?

DVD or digital versatile disc is a type of optical disc used for data storage and a multimedia platform. It can store a significantly higher amount of data than a standard compact disc. There are different variations of the original DVD format with greater capacities. For example, a standard DVD can store 4.7 GB of data. A dual-layer DVD (which has double layers of data on a single side of the disc) can hold 8.5 GB of data. A dual-sided DVD can hold 9.4 GB of data. And a dual-layer, dual-sided DVD can hold 17.1 GB of data.


How does it help the user?

DVDs are mainly used for storing and viewing recorded motion pictures, television programs, and other data. They can be watched repeatedly without reducing the quality of the video and do not need rewind. The DVD is also used to distribute software programs since some software and applications are too large to fit on a single CD.


There are writable DVDs that also provide a way to store large quantities of files and back up data. These writable DVD formats are the following: DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, and DVD-RAM.


Is it affordable?

Writable DVD blanks such as DVD+R and DVD-R cost between $0.20 – $0.40 per disc. A spindle with 50 discs costs around $10 to $15. DVD movies can cost around $5 to $20. But its price can go beyond $50 if the DVD contains a complete series of a particular TV show or movie. While DVD games are often the same cost as CD and digital download games. They can go from $10 to $60.


Flash Memory


Your search for the perfect flash drive just got easier: discover more with this flash memory buying guide.


What does it do?

Flash memory is a non-volatile memory chip mounted on a small circuit board. The memory retains information even if the power is turned off. Flash memory has the ability to electronically reprogram or erase data. It is based on an electronically erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM) technology. Often, this type of memory can be found in solid-state drives, USB flash drives, digital cameras, and MP3 players.


How does it help the user?

Flash memory can function as data storage for electronic devices like smartphones, cameras, laptop computers, solid-state drives (SSDs), digital audio players and PDAs (personal digital assistants). It offers efficiency in writing and deleting information (in entire blocks rather than one at a time). This type of memory also has a relatively high storage capacity and is inserted into a computer.


Is it affordable?

Just like the thumb drive, the price of the flash memory will depend on storage capacity. Flash memory comes in a range of sizes from 16 GB up to 512 GB. Depending on the brand and storage size, this type of memory can cost from $20 to $100.


SD Cards


Confused by the sheer variety of options out there? Our ultimate guide on SD cards covers factors to consider, tips ‘n tricks, and much more.


What does it do?

SD cards or secure digital cards are a type of flash memory card that provides high-capacity memory in a small size. It is used in many portable devices such as mobile phones, digital cameras, digital video camcorders, handheld computers, and audio players.


There are three versions of the SD card which correspond to their size: the SD (32mm x 24mm x 2.1mm), the MiniSD (21.5mm x 20mm x 1.4mm), and the MicroSD (15mm x 11mm x 1.0mm). The capacity of SD cards range from 2 GB, 32 GB to 64 GB.


How does it help the user?

SD cards provide a non-volatile solution for storage devices by storing and transferring information. It can keep your data even without a power source. The SD card is portable and mobile, meaning you can easily use and transport it anywhere. You can store large amounts of data and use it as a backup. A regular micro SD card is also compatible with a wide range of mobile devices.


Is it affordable?

Over time, SD cards vary greatly in prices. An 8GB memory card would have cost you about $100 a decade ago. But today, you can buy a 128GB card for about the same price. Typically, a 32GB card costs as little as $10.



Frequently Asked Questions About Data Storage


1. How to protect data storage?

There are different safety measures you can take to protect your data storage. First, you need to choose and create a secure password that cannot be easily hacked. Next, install antivirus software to protect your computer against viruses. Also, make regular backups of your files and store them in a safe cloud storage. But, avoid storing any sensitive information in the cloud. Lastly, you can use data encryption services to ensure that no one will have access to your files.


2. How to transfer data?

You can transfer your data from one device to another in various ways. First, you can use email attachments when making small data transfers. This is a very easy way to transfer data without having to go through a shared network. For larger data, you can transfer them using external hard drives and storage media devices such as thumb drives. It is quick and easy, all you have to do is just connect the device to the computer and you can start moving your files. Lastly, using cloud storage is great for continuous data transfer. The cloud lets you upload, share, and secure your data virtually. It also allows you to easily access your data with any device.


3. Compatibility of each storage

Compatibility depends on your storage and your devices. Some types of storage like SD cards, hard drives, DVDs, or Blu-Ray discs need a compatible device that will allow them to operate. Then, you also have cloud storage. It is more accessible and portable, meaning it lets you store or transfer data from one device to another. You do not need to plug it physically to your computer, all you need is the system and an Internet connection.


4. Online vs Offline Storage

Online and offline storage are the types of storage you can use for your data. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Online storage refers to storing your files using a cloud. It is very easy and provides high security for your data. The cloud allows you to share your files with multiple users. It is also great for mobility and accessibility to different devices. But sometimes, uploads can be slow depending on their required limit and file size. The prices also vary; bigger storage capacity could cost more.


On the other hand, offline storage includes devices such as hard drives, USB sticks, or CDs. They are cheaper and store your data permanently. This storage can also be connected to other media such as televisions or projectors. But, these devices often have a shelf life and need to be backed up regularly. They can also be corrupted or damaged easily when unexpectedly removed from a device or dropped. There may also be limited file-sharing capabilities depending on how many people are using.


5. How much data storage is needed by a computer?

The amount of storage you’ll need depends on the intensity of activities you perform using your computer: are you an avid gamer, or do you mainly use your PC for internet browsing? Check out this article for information on the amount of data storage your computer needs.


6. What changes does a high data storage can make?

High data storage can significantly improve your computer’s performance, making it run faster and smoother overall. Even though RAM is technically the “make or break” factor, data storage is still necessary for the computer to read and write information. 


7. What are the data storage measurements?

Data storage can be measured in a variety of ways. The smallest possible unit of measurement is bit (b), followed by byte (B), kilobyte (KB) and megabyte (MB), gigabyte (GB), terabyte (TB)… all the way to yottabyte (YB), which is 10008 bytes.


8. Characteristics, types and advantages of RAM

RAM stands for “Random Access Memory”, and is a storage component that is present (more or less) in all electronic devices including mobile phones and computers.  Explore everything about RAM in our ultimate guide here.


9. Characteristics, types and advantages of ROM

ROM stands for “Read Only Memory”. Unlike RAM, data stored in ROM can only be read and it is used mainly for firmware updates. Check out this guide to make the most out of your ROM!


10. Things to consider when buying a data storage device

Data storage devices can be considered as a form of investment: think CDs, hard disks, and flash memory cards. As such, it’s important to take into consideration factors like your data needs, budget and more. 


11. The best data storage device for you

What’s “best” for a person might not be an ideal choice for another.  The best storage device is ideally one that doesn’t cost a limb,  and yet it able to meet your expectations in terms of smoothness and speed of performance. 


12. Tips on upgrading your computer data storage

There are several ways in which you can increase data storage. If your computer has a small capacity, some viable options to consider are SSDs and hard drives, which can add up to 1 TB of storage instantly. 


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