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DATA STORAGE

Raw data often enters the computer system by means of an input device such as a keyboard or
scanner. For example you enter text into a word processing application with a keyboard.

The CPU then processes data and then one or two things happen - the data is sent directly to an output
device such as the computer monitor and / or it is stored for later use.

Data is normally stored as a named file on whatever storage device is to be used.

Any device which is used to store data is known as a 'storage device'. There are a number of different
storage devices, each with their own purpose and use.

Exactly how the data is stored depends on a number of factors such as:

Capacity - the amount of data to be stored / size of the file


- how quickly the user needs to be able to access the data from the
Speed
storage device
- whether the data needs to be moved from one place to another such
Portability
as from home to school
Durability - How long the storage media can reasonably be expected to last.
- whether the data can always be accessed reliably and in the format
Reliability
in which it was saved.

A computer uses two types of storage. A main store consisting of ROM and RAM, and backing stores
which can be internal, e.g. hard disk, or external, e.g. a CD or USB flash drive.

ROM and RAM

Main store (or computer memory) is divided into Read Only Memory (ROM) and Random Access
Memory (RAM).

Read Only Memory (ROM)

ROM is a special kind of memory which stores the instructions which the computer uses when it
'boots up' - the BIOS (basic input output system). It allows it to check the type of hard disk installed,
the amount of RAM installed (see next page), the type of CPU being used etc.

ROM is a type of memory that retains its data even without power, so even when the computer is
switched off, it will not lose the data which is saved onto it.

This kind of memory is needed because the computer must be able to obtain instructions from the
moment it is switched on and it must know some basic things about the hardware that makes up the
machine i.e. 'its configuration settings'.

Because the data is 'read only', it can be read but not changed by the user.

The ROM chip (although there may be more than one) is attached to the Motherboard.

The key thing to remember about ROM is that the data is not erased when the computer is switched
off - the data is stored permanently. This type of memory is also called 'non volatile memory'

RAM

RAM is a fast temporary type of memory in which programs, applications and data are stored. Here
are some examples of what's stored in RAM:

 the operating system


 applications
 the graphical user interface (GUI)

If a computer loses power, all data stored in its RAM is lost. RAM stores data and instructions that
the computer is currently using.
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There are two kinds of RAM namely 'static RAM' and 'Dynamic RAM' or DRAM.

Storage capacity and file size

Storage capacities and file sizes are measured from lowest to highest in:

 bits
 bytes
 kilobytes
 megabytes
 gigabytes
 terabytes

An operating system abbreviates these measurements, eg 1 megabyte becomes 1MB (megabyte).

Relationship between measurements

The table below outlines the relationship between bits (smallest) and terabytes (largest). Read each
row of the table from left to right:

Relationship between measurement

Size Equal to
8 bits 1 byte
1024 bytes 1 kilobyte
1024 kilobytes 1 megabyte
1024 megabytes 1 gigabyte
1024 gigabytes 1 terabyte

The size of a file and a storage device's capacity will always be written in its simplest form. For
example, an operating system would report a 1 terabyte hard disk's size as 1TB not as 1024GB,
although both are correct.

Example file sizes

The table below lists files commonly found on a computer and their typical file size (compressed):

File File size


Photo 3MB
Song 5MB
Film 700MB

A file’s size can be influenced by a number of factors but ultimately the more information a file
stores, the larger it will be.

The hard disk

The main internal backing store is a computer's hard disk.

A hard disk stores:

 the operating system


 software applications or programs
 the majority of your data files

Hard disks spin at very high speeds (around 7,200 RPM - revolutions per minute) within a sealed unit
inside the computer. Hard disks store large amounts of data - 200GB to 1TB is common in desktop
computers. The data stored on a hard disk is retained until deleted, but it needs to be loaded into main
store RAM before it can be used.
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Floppy and zip disks

Floppy discs became popular in the 1970s. The most common format was 1.44
MB, capable of holding only very small amounts of data. Computers need a
floppy drive to read floppy disks, and many modern computers are no longer
supplied with a floppy disc drive because we now work with much larger files.

Now we are capable of storing 16 GB of data on a memory card which is,


physically, six times smaller then a floppy disk. It would take roughly 11,111 floppy disks to store 16
GB of data.

In the past, floppy disks were used to:

 transfer small files of data from one machine to another


 backup important small files stored on a hard disk
 store restricted files that you didn’t want other users of your computer seeing

Zip disk

Zip disks are like large floppy disks but can store 250MB or more of data. To read them a computer
needs a zip drive. Their use is similar to that of floppy disks.

Newer storage mediums such as DVD-RWs and memory sticks have replaced floppy/zip disks.

External backing stores: optical discs

There are several different types of optical disc, although they all look pretty much the same.

CD (Compact Disc)

Optical discs that use the same technology as music CDs. They store up to 700MB of data. CDs can
be used for multimedia applications such as encyclopaedias and can store pictures, sounds and video
clips or anything else that will fit.

There are several formats on the market, such as:

 CD-ROM - read only, the data is written to them before they are sold.
 CD-R - meaning CD-Recordable, the user can write data to the CD once or fill it over time
using multi-session (writing to the same disc on separate occasions).
 CD-RW - meaning CD-ReWritable, the CD can be written and re-written to. Unlike multi-
session discs, existing data can be overwritten.

DVD (Digital Versatile Disc)

DVDs are the same physical size as CDs but hold much more data - a single sided disc can hold up to
4.7GB. DVDs are commonly used for storing video so you will often see them measured in minutes,
eg 4.7GB = 120 minutes.

There are several formats on the market, such as:

 DVD-ROMs - read only, the data is written to them before they are sold.
 DVD-R - meaning DVD-Recordable, the user can write data to the DVD once or fill it over
time using multi-session.
 DVD-RW - meaning DVD-ReWritable, the DVD can be written and re-written to. Unlike
multi-session discs, existing data can be overwritten.

CD/DVD drives

To read from and write data to CDs and DVDs you will need a suitable drive. Today you can buy
CD/DVD drives that are able to:

 read all CD and DVD formats


 write to CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R and DVD-RW

Data is written to and read from the discs using a laser.


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External Backing Stores

Magnetic tape

Principally used for backup of important files from the hard disk and
for the long term storage and archiving of data.

Advantage

 They are small, robust, portable and provide low cost storage
per GB.

Disadvantages

 They are very slow to write to and read from.


 Serial access means all the data on the tape must be read before you can access the data you
need.

External hard disks

An external hard disk can store very large amounts of data, eg 1TB, and can be plugged into your
computer via a USB or FireWire port to provide extra storage. They're essentially the same as the
hard disk in your computer but due to the casing are usable externally.

Advantage

 High capacity, eg 1TB or more so they can be used to backup data or move large amounts of
data between machines.

Disadvantages

 They're often quite large and therefore inconvenient to carry around.


 They have moving parts so are more likely to break, especially if dropped.

Memory sticks

A memory stick is 'pen top' sized USB device and can be used in a similar way to a floppy disk but it
is inserted into the USB port - it is then seen by the computer as a removable drive. They typically
come in sizes from 512MB to 32GB upwards depending on the price paid.

Advantages

 Memory sticks can hold large quantities of data.


 They are extremely portable, so the user can take them wherever they go.
 They're durable, because they have no moving parts.

Disadvantage

 Portable storage devices in general are more likely to be lost, stolen or damaged.

Memory Cards

A memory card is a stamp-sized USB device and can be used in a similar way to a floppy disk but it
is inserted into either a memory card reader or a USB converter - it is then seen by the computer as a
removable drive. They typically come in sizes from 1 GB to 32 GB upwards, depending on the price
paid. There are many available memory card formats, but since 2010 the SD card became the more
favoured format.

Advantages

 Memory cards can hold large quantities of data.


 They are extremely portable so the user can take them wherever they go.
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 Digital accessories such as compact cameras and mobile phones are able to read and write to
memory cards allowing the user to transport large collections of photographs, songs or
information with them.
 They're durable because they have no moving parts.

Disadvantage

 Memory cards, specifically the micro SD card, are the smallest storage devices available. This
means they are more likely to be lost, stolen or damaged.
 All computers do not come with memory card readers built in. Users will often be required to
purchase a card reader or USB converter to view the data on a card.

Backing up and archiving data

Data needs to be backed up for many reasons:

 a user may delete an important file


 hard disks can fail
 a virus can wipe out data
 a fire may destroy the building where the data was being stored (businesses will often store
their backups off-site)

If the data wasn’t backed up then the consequences could be disastrous depending on what data was
lost. If a business lost details of all the payments it had yet to receive the business could go bankrupt
as they wouldn’t know what was owed to them or by who.

Businesses typically use magnetic tape to backup important data. Your average home user is unlikely
to backup their data but those who do will most likely use an external hard disk.

Frequency of backups

Some data is more valuable than other data and some data is changed more frequently than other data.
These are the kind of issues that must be taken into account when deciding how often to backup data.

The value of the data should determine how frequently it is backed up.

If the data doesn’t change often then it doesn’t need to be backed up as often, maybe just after each
change. If the data changes frequently then it should be backed up frequently (maybe every evening).

Archiving

Some data may not be being used very often but it may still be useful or needed in the future. In this
case data can be archived. Archived data is copied to a suitable storage medium (perhaps DVDs or
magnetic tape) then it is stored safely and securely. The original data is then deleted from the
computer system. This is done to free up storage space for new data.