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Computer Science 1000. Terminology II. Storage a computer has two primary tasks store data operate on data a processor's primary job is to operate on data math operations move operations note that processors do have a very small amount of storage

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computer science 1000

Computer Science 1000

Terminology II



    • a computer has two primary tasks
      • store data
      • operate on data
    • a processor's primary job is to operate on data
      • math operations
      • move operations
      • note that processors do have a very small amount of storage
    • how the majority of data stored by the machine?


    • there are a variety of storage media available for computers:
      • RAM
      • hard drive
      • removable media
    • these storage types are differentiated by:
      • capacity
      • price
      • latency
    • first, we should determine what is being stored

Information Storage

    • ask a non-computer person what their computer stores
      • programs/apps/games
      • pictures
      • songs/videos
      • email
      • documents (text)
    • what does it mean to store an object, like a piece of text, in a computer?
      • in other words, how is it represented?

Information Storage

    • consider a notebook (for comparison)
      • how is a piece of text stored/represented?
        • as a set of written symbols
        • the set of available symbols depends on your language
        • individual symbols can be combined into other objects (e.g. words, sentences)

Information Storage

    • in a computer, information is stored as a set of bits
    • a bit is short for binary digit
    • in simplest terms, a binary digit is either 0 or 1
    • hence, information stored by a computer is simply a set of 0s and 1s

Information Storage

    • how does the computer store other information?
      • other information is encoded in binary
    • the way that information is stored in binary depends on the information type

Information Storage

    • numbers
      • people typically use numbers in decimal format
      • represented by digits 0-9
    • any decimal number can be represented in binary form
      • for example, here are the first 16 integers in binary:

Information Storage

    • numbers – notes
      • the entire number is typically coded in binary, not each individual digit
        • e.g. 49 in binary is 110001, not 1001001
      • most numbers are stored as a fixed number of bits
      • e.g. 32-bit numbers
        • each number stored as a 32-bit sequence
        • smaller numbers are padded on left with zeroes (like decimal)
        • e.g. 14 (1110) as 32-bit number: 00000000000000000000000000001110

Information Storage

    • text
      • each character in a piece of text has a binary encoding
    • e.g. ASCII: 8-bit sequence
      • each character has a unique 8-bit sequence

Information Storage

    • image
      • a digital picture is made up of pixels (tiny squares)
      • each pixel stored as its colour
      • each colour has a unique binary encoding
      • images will often indicate their colour depth
        • e.g. 24-bit colour uses 24 bits per colour
        • example (RGB): pure red: 111111110000000000000000

Information Storage

    • context
      • the previous representation of the colour red is also the binary representation of 16,711,680
      • so when we see that sequence, how do we determine what kind of data it is?
        • it's up to a program to interpret the number
        • often, the file type is used as a hint
        • different programs will interpret the same sequence differently

Information Storage

    • representations
      • the previous was a brief introduction to how information is encoded, to facilitate understanding of memory and storage
      • later in the semester, we will consider an entire chapter on how information is stored, with topics like:
        • binary representation of negative numbers, and numbers with a decimal point (3.4)
        • other text representations (e.g. Unicode)

Information Storage

    • units and prefixes
      • byte: 8 bits (typically)
        • most storage is measured in bytes, rather than bits
        • hence, a 100 byte file would contain 800 bits
      • bits and bytes are typically abbreviated as b and B
        • hence, 80 B = 80 bytes
        • = 640 b = 640 bits

Information Storage – Unit Prefixes

    • bits and bytes are often abbreviated using SI (metric) prefixes
    • for example:
      • K (kilo) - e.g. kilobyte (KB)
      • M (mega) - e.g. megabit (Mb)
      • G (giga) - e.g. gigabyte (GB)
      • T (tera) - e.g. terabyte (TB)

Information Storage – Units

    • it is not always clear what the multiplier is
    • when referring to main memory, we typically use powers of two
    • hence, the prefix kilo means multiply by 210 , and not 1000
    • hence, 1 KB = 1024 bytes, 3 KB = 3072 bytes ...
    • other multipliers:
      • mega: 220 = 1048576
      • giga: 230 = 1073741824
    • when used in this context, known as binary prefixes

Information Storage – Units

    • when referring to other storage types, we typically use powers of 10
    • hence, the prefix kilo means multiply by 103, like you are used to
      • mega : 106
      • giga: 109
    • hence, 500 GB = 500,000,000,000 bytes
    • when used in this context, known as decimal prefixes

Information Storage – Units

    • the industry is not consistent
      • when you buy a 4 GB USB key, Windows will often report it as smaller, as it assumes that 4 GB = 4 x 230

Other Interesting Example


Storage Media

    • now that we know what is being stored, and how to define it, let's consider different ways to store it
    • types we will consider:
      • volatile storage
      • persistent storage

Volatile Storage

    • typically referred to as memory
    • defined as storage that requires a continuous power source to maintain its state
    • in other words, when its power source is disconnected, all memory is erased
      • and you lose your data
    • your CPU cache discussed previously would be considered volatile memory
    • however, RAM is the primary volatile storage on most computers


    • Random Access Memory
    • also referred to as main memory
    • the location of your program and associated data when your program is running
    • example: consider a running web browser
    • stores:
      • instructions (for your processor)
      • images and text from the webpage
      • things that you can't see (e.g. cookies, passwords)


    • the most defining feature of a system's main memory is its capacity
      • the amount of information that it can store
    • modern consumer systems typically have 2-16 GB of RAM
      • 4-8 GB is very common
      • in 8 GB of RAM, you could store:
        • ~4.2 million pages of text (~129 Encyclopaedia Britannica 2010 ed.)
        • ~2000 songs
      • remember: for main memory, 1 GB = 230 bytes, not 109


Why does RAM capacity affect performance?

    • recall that RAM stores programs and data
    • hence, the bigger the RAM, the more programs and data it can store
    • this means:
      • more programs can be loaded into memory at once*
      • more data can be stored in main memory (important for large media items like movies)
      • certain programs (e.g. newer games) have minimum memory requirements just to run

* this ignores a concept called virtual memory, discussed later


Why Random Access Memory?

    • named because any location on RAM chip can be accessed in (nearly) the same amount of time
    • compare this to sequential access memory
      • example: magnetic tape storage
      • items directly under the reader can be accessed quite quickly
      • feeding the tape to find other locations is extremely slow
      • hence, RAM devices are typically much faster

Persistant Storage

    • sometimes referred to as non-volatile memory
    • defined as storage that maintains its state even when no power source is connected
    • in other words, state is maintained between power interruptions
      • although there are other potential forms of data corruption
    • many types of persistent storage
      • hard drives
      • optical drives
      • key drives

Hard Drive

    • also referred to as hard disk or simply disk
    • the primary source of persistent storage on modern machines
    • like RAM
      • can store programs, documents, images, videos, etc
    • unlike RAM:
      • items in persistent storage are typically not in use
      • they are loaded into RAM from your hard drive in order to be used

Hard Drive

    • like RAM, the most defining feature of a hard drive is its capacity
    • typical consumer hard drives range in size from 500 GB to 4 TB
    • consider 2 TB of hard disk space:
      • ~1 billion pages of text (~30000 Encyclopaedia Britannica)
      • ~500000 songs (mp3)
      • remember: for persistent storage, 1 GB = 109 bytes, not 230

Hard Drive vs RAM

    • RAM and hard drives store data in fundamentally different ways
      • details beyond scope of the class
    • one of the ways in which they differ is price
      • by price, let's consider $/GB (to be fair)
      • note that certain things can affect this range (e.g. laptop RAM is usually more expensive than desktop RAM)

RAM – Example

    • 8 GB = $50-$60  $6.25/GB - $7.50/GB

Hard Drive - Example

    • 1 TB = $70-$75  $0.07/GB - $0.075/GB

Hard Drive vs RAM

      • persistence
        • hard drives are persistent, no data is lost when power is disrupted
        • RAM is volatile, loss of power = RAM is erased
      • capacity
        • most consumer hard drives: 500GB – 2TB of HD
        • most consumer RAM: 2GB – 16GB
      • price
        • hard drives cost pennies per GB of storage
        • RAM costs dollars (about a 100 times more)
      • what is the advantage of RAM over an HD?

Hard Drive vs RAM

    • answer: speed!!
    • RAM is fast compared to HD
    • performance measured in two ways
      • access time
      • transfer rate

Storage – Access Time

    • time to retrieve a single random piece of data
    • for modern RAM:
      • 50 – 150 nanoseconds*
    • for modern hard drives:
      • 5 – 15 milliseconds*
    • hence, RAM is the clear winner
    • performance can vary depending on how data is accessed**




Storage – Transfer rate

    • how much data can be transferred in a second
    • for modern RAM:
      • 6-17 GB/s
    • for modern hard drives:
      • 50-120 MB/s*
    • again, RAM is the clear winner
    • better technologies (e.g. SSD drives) improve HD performance, but still much slower than RAM



RAM vs. Hard Drive

    • in summary, RAM has the ability to access and transfer data much quicker
    • for running programs, it is critical that data latency be minimized
      • otherwise, your processor would always be waiting
      • although more expensive and less spacious, RAM makes your current computer experience possible

Hard Drive – RPMs

    • one other common feature listed with typical hard drives is their RPMs
      • common values: 5400, 7200, 10000
    • RPMs stand for revolutions per minute
    • basically, more RPMs = better performance
    • to understand why, we must how consider how hard drives are constructed

Hard Drive – Construction

    • data stored magnetically on platters, which are just smooth round surfaces
    • data is read/written by the head, which is at the end of the arm mechanism that you see
    • these platters spin, and the arm moves to a particular location and reads the data that passes under it
    • hence, the faster it spins, the faster that data can be accessed

Hard Drive – SSD

    • a newer technology than magnetic drives
    • no moving parts (quiet)
    • considerable performance improvement over magnetic hard drives
      • throughput: 200-500 MB/s
    • considerably more expensive
      • over $1/GB