Memory vs. hard drive space

Here’s a common source of confusion for computer users: the difference between memory and hard drive storage space. A reader was confused because she was getting a warning that she didn’t have enough memory to complete an action, even though she had several gigs of hard drive space free.

Memory and hard drive space are two different things.

The hard drive is where you store files and programs. When you install a program, create a document, download a picture… it is all stored on your hard drive. It’s kind of like a giant file cabinet.

Memory, on the other hand, means Random Access Memory or RAM.  

Your PC uses RAM to load programs and processes. When you’re actively using a program, it’s loaded into RAM so you can speedily access it. When you’re finished with the program, it’s cleared to make room for other processes.


If your computer tells you that you don’t have enough memory, deleting files from your hard drive won’t help. If it says you don’t have enough hard drive space, removing files is the way to go.

If your computer says you don’t have enough memory, you may need more RAM or you may need to check into what’s hogging your memory. You might have programs running the background.

Try opening the Task Manager and looking under Processes to see what programs are using the most memory.

Hard drive space is the amount of storage you have available to keep things long term. Memory is more like the amount of space you have on your table to actually take the item out and actively use it.

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