Over the years of working on computers, I have discovered that most technicians speak in a language that most people don’t understand.  They will start throwing around terms like “Gigs” and “Megs” and “GPU” and “RAM” and many other abbreviations and technical terms.

One of my personal goals as a technician, and a goal I strive for with all the technicians who work for me, is to talk in normal English, and not “Geek Speak”.  Of course, some times it is necessary to use these technical terms, so I always try to give explanations so people will understand what I’m talking about.

For example – one common confusion I have seen many times is the difference between memory and hard drive space.  So – here’s an analogy that I use to explain the difference.  Think about a printed telephone book.  It contains a reasonably permanent storage of information.  This is much like the hard drive on your computer.

When you need someone’s phone number, you open the phone book, find the listing, and then you create a copy of the phone number in your memory.  Unfortunately, if your memory is much like mine, you don’t remember that number very long, and you certainly don’t remember several phone numbers.  Think of it as a temporary storage. The memory on your computer is also a temporary storage – when the computer is powered off, everything in memory is lost.  Fortunately, the majority of the time your important information is stored in the hard drive, so it is not lost.

One of the problems that occurs with people’s computers comes after several years of use.  In addition to installing programs (which primarily live on the hard drive, and not in memory except when they are used), the operating system updates itself on a regular basis with updates designed to improve the security of your system.  However, that operating system is loaded into the memory of the computer when the computer starts up.  When the computer was new, there was plenty of spare memory for other things.  However, as the operating system gets larger over time, there is less and less spare memory for other things, and so the computer gets slower.  Many times, a memory upgrade can help to resolve speed issues.

A far less common problem is when someone’s hard drive fills up.  Windows will often use part of the empty hard drive space as additional memory storage.  Think of it as you scribbling down a phone number on a scrap piece of paper, or even on the front cover of your phone book.  It makes it much faster for you to find it the next time you need it.  However, if you are storing more and more stuff on your hard drive, the spare space becomes less and less, and so your computer has a harder time running the programs you need.  Often, people can clean some files off their computer (if they are careful – don’t delete anything critical!), but if the hard drive is too small, the best option might be to upgrade the drive with a larger one to have greater capacity.

Upgrading either the memory or the hard drive (or both, if necessary), can be a relatively inexpensive step that can extend the usability of your computer for a few more years.

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