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What Is Secondary Memory?

By G. Wiesen
Updated: May 16, 2024

Secondary memory is a type of computer memory that is not directly accessed by the central processing unit (CPU) of a computer and is usually available as non-volatile memory. One of the most common forms of this memory is the hard drive of a computer, which is used to store the operating system (OS) and other programs. Other forms of secondary memory include disc drives for compact discs (CDs) or digital versatile discs (DVDs), as well as removable flash memory. In contrast to this, primary memory is computer memory directly accessed by the CPU, usually volatile memory, and tertiary memory refers to systems outside of a computer that can be directly accessed through various means.

There are several different types of memory utilized by computer systems, and secondary memory is one of the most common and important. This type of memory is typically recognized by how it is used by a computer system and the way in which data is stored on it. The main characteristic of this type of memory is that it is not accessed directly by the CPU, but instead through a connection that allows the CPU to utilize it. This type of memory is also usually non-volatile memory, which means it retains data even without a power source.

One of the most common types of secondary memory is the hard drive on a computer. This drive is accessed by the CPU through one of several different indirect methods and data remains on the drive even without a power supply. Other disc drives, such as those used with CDs and DVDs, are also types of secondary memory utilized for other purposes. Easily removable memory types, such as flash drives, are also secondary memory and use interfaces such as a universal serial bus (USB) port to be accessed by the CPU.

In addition to secondary memory, many computer systems also utilize primary memory, tertiary memory, and offline storage. Primary memory is the memory on a computer that is directly accessed by the CPU, namely random access memory (RAM) and the memory used to store the basic input/output system (BIOS). Tertiary memory is typically external memory a computer can access directly through some type of automated system, such as a bank of hard drives that can be connected to a computer through the use of a robotic armature. Offline storage is memory that can be used and accessed remotely, such as servers that can be utilized through an Internet connection for data backup or storage.

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Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Dec 22, 2012

Is an external memory drive secondary memory?

By SteamLouis — On Dec 21, 2012

When secondary memory first came out, I thought it was really cool. It was very useful and I used it all the time. I do still use it occasionally, but only when a file cannot be attached to my email.

Secondary memory is not as important anymore because it's so easy to attach things to personal emails these days. When I need to save something, I just email it to myself.

This works great because I have access to my email everywhere and my email sort of becomes my storage file. If I ever need that attachment again, I can search my email, open it and access it.

But you can fit only so many things on secondary memory. Eventually you have to erase some of it. Email storage is harder to fill up.

By burcinc — On Dec 20, 2012

I always keep a flash drive with me so that I can save my assignments when I work on them at the public computers at school. We're not allowed to save anything on public computers, so it's necessary to have secondary memory.

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