Volatile Storage

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What Does Volatile Storage Mean?

Volatile storage is a type of computer memory that needs power to preserve stored data. If the computer is switched off, anything stored in the volatile memory is removed or deleted.


All random access memory (RAM) other than the CMOS RAM used in the BIOS is volatile. RAM is typically used as a primary storage or main memory in computer systems. Since the primary storage demands extreme speed, it mainly uses volatile memory. Due to the volatile nature of RAM, users often need to save their work to a nonvolatile permanent medium, such as a hard drive, in order to avoid data loss.

Volatile storage is also known as volatile memory or temporary memory.

Techopedia Explains Volatile Storage

There are two kinds of volatile RAM: dynamic and static. Even though both types need continuous electrical current for proper functioning, there are some important differences as well.

Dynamic RAM (DRAM) is very popular due to its cost effectiveness. If a computer has 1 gigabyte or 512 megabytes of RAM, the specification describes dynamic RAM (DRAM). DRAM stores each bit of information in a different capacitor within the integrated circuit. DRAM chips need just one single capacitor and one transistor to store each bit of information. This makes it space efficient and inexpensive.

The main advantage of static RAM (SRAM) is that it is much faster than dynamic RAM. Its disadvantage is its high price. SRAM does not need continuous electrical refreshes, but it still requires constant current to sustain the difference in voltage. In general, SRAM needs less power than DRAM, even though the power requirements differ based on the computer’s clock speed. At moderate speeds SRAM usually requires just a fraction of the power used by DRAM. When idle, the power requirements of static RAM are low. Every single bit in a static RAM chip needs a cell of six transistors, whereas dynamic RAM requires only one capacitor and one transistor. As a result, SRAM is unable to accomplish the storage capabilities of the DRAM family.

SRAM is most commonly used in networking devices, like switches, routers, cable modems, etc., for buffering the transmitted information.

The physical structure and electronic properties of volatile memory makes it faster compared to electro-mechanical storage devices such as hard drives, which makes it an ideal candidate as the computer’s main form of memory.

In terms of security, volatile memory is very secure since it does not retain any record at all after power is removed, so no data can be salvaged. However, this is a double-edged sword since all data is lost if there is power interruption.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.