What Is Primary Storage? - Definition, Devices & Types

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  • 0:00 What Is Primary Storage?
  • 0:45 Relationship between…
  • 1:57 Exploring the Role of…
  • 2:45 Sequential Versus…
  • 3:36 Types of RAM
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lucinda Stanley

Lucinda has taught business and information technology and has a PhD in Education.

This lesson will help you answer the question, 'What is primary storage?' It will help you understand how primary storage works in your computer, the devices that comprise primary storage, and the different types of primary storage.

What is Primary Storage?

Have you heard these terms: primary storage, main storage, primary memory, or internal memory? Have you wondered what each of them means? All of these terms may seem like a lot to learn and may have you thinking that computers are impossible to understand, but don't let yourself become overwhelmed, because those are all terms for the same thing: RAM, or random access memory.

When many people hear the term 'primary storage,' they think of the hard drive on the computer -- where you store or save your data. But primary storage is actually where the data you are actively using is being stored. In other words, whatever you are working on at the moment is being held in primary storage.

Relationship Between RAM and CPU

The device you're using when actively working on your computer is the RAM. The RAM is the only storage that has direct access to the central processing unit (CPU), or the brains of your computer, through what is called a bus. A bus is a pathway or circuit that allows the RAM to communicate directly with the CPU to complete the tasks you want accomplished.

That sounds complicated, but what does it really mean? Let's say you arrive at school carrying your book bag and sit down at your empty desk. The empty desk is the RAM, or primary memory. As you get ready to study, you take items out of your book bag and place them on the desk. The desk gives you the space you need to get down to business and use your items, such as pencils, folders and books. Just like RAM, the desk serves as the workspace you need to accomplish tasks.

The down side of RAM is that it is volatile. If something happens -- say, your computer suddenly shuts down -- anything that is stored there is lost. This is why you are constantly told to save your work often -- once you save the work from RAM into something more permanent (like your hard drive or a portable storage device), you don't have to worry about losing your work.

Exploring the Role of Cache Memory

Another part of RAM is known as the cache. This is a form of primary memory that is directly attached to the CPU; there is no bus or pathway from the CPU to cache memory. It helps to make your computer even faster since it is right there next to the CPU.

If we were to draw a picture of the CPU, RAM, and cache, here is what it would look like:

Relationship between CPU, cache, and RAM
Relationship between CPU, cache, and RAM

Notice how the cache is directly attached to the CPU? This makes communication between the cache and CPU super fast. The arrow connecting the CPU to the RAM, or primary storage, is the bus -- it provides a transportation route for data to go between the CPU and RAM. Other memory (like secondary or tertiary) does not have this direct access or route to the CPU.

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