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Question about computer storage

  1. Dec 31, 2016 #1
    Are computer files the only way a computer stores data/digital information?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 31, 2016 #2

    jim mcnamara

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    Staff: Mentor

    Do you mean the medium of storage, or the device?
    Medium of storage - digital data can be stored on:
    tape (paper tape, iron oxide coated tape),
    different kinds of portable digital storage (memory) on chips,
    transient digital memory in a running computer,
    various flavors of disk,
    laser written disks (DVD's, CD's).

    Text - paper as print. Books, ledgers, etc.

    With the exception of paper all of these media are unreadable without technology. So the answer I guess is: most of the time data is stored as computer files (digital format).

    What are you after here? Your question is vague and I gave the most general answer I could.
  4. Dec 31, 2016 #3


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    Gold Member

    At the most fundamental level, a computer does not store "files", it stores bits. Organization of strings of bits into what we think of as files is a macro construct of human invention whereas storage of bits is a coercion of nature by human designed electronics. Looked at another way, storage of bits can be performed in only a limited number of ways (electronics structures) but organization of strings of bits into files can be done in an unlimited number of ways and is completely arbitrary.
  5. Dec 31, 2016 #4
    In what way does it store these bits? I'm trying to imagine what it would look like to store electrical information.
  6. Jan 1, 2017 #5
    the signalling convention just switches voltages between the ranges to represent 1s and zero,

    AFAIK the signalling convention most commonly used is of course that of electrical voltage ranges.

    0 Volts____________________ V-low ------forbidden range----- V-high _________________Vmax

    [Vhigh - Vmax] = 1. Voltages that fall between this range are a ONE.
    (0 - Vlow] = 0. Voltages that fall between this range are a ZERO.

    and the reason we use binary signalling convention is because the noise is less and its not as complicated to manufacture as using other signalling conventions. Earlier computers used to physically re arrange themselves to represents new information, now its done electrically. The old computers were mechanical devices that were used to solve mathematical problems. The first ever electronic computer was the EANIC. The mechanical computers worked on mechanical principles that were used, and were very specific to their purpose. They could usually only solve a specific range of problems, and that too with limited accuracy. Older computers had limited programmability, they could not be expected to execute the type of algorithms most computers do nowadays.

    "The processor is the “brain” of the computer that does all the work. By itself, the processor is fairly useless. (Think of
    Einstein’s brain floating in a jar of formaldehyde. It may be one of the smartest
    brains in the world, but if it can’t communicate with the outside world, it’s
    completely useless as anything other than a very unusual paperweight.)
    Like Einstein’s brain in a jar, your computer’s processor is useful only if it can
    communicate with the outside world. The processor communicates with the
    other parts of the computer through a series of wires called a bus.
    When a processor needs to work with data, it retrieves it from another part
    of the computer (such as the hard disk or memory) and temporarily stores
    that data in a storage area called a register"
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2017
  7. Jan 1, 2017 #6


    Staff: Mentor

    Most long-term storge has been done magnetically with the caveat to keep the data away from strong magnetic fields.

    Early computers could read and punch cards which was a form of storage but rather bulky. Later card storage was used mostly for complied programs ie relocatable binary code. Programmers would submit their program get a binary deck back and use it in subsequent runs to eliminate the compile step saving time and money.

    Also some programmers used punched paper tape as a storage medium though again it was bulky and prone to ripping affected by the harsh manufacturing environment and the humidity when being reread many times when used for 60's era computer assisted milling machines.


    Early computers used magnetic tapes that were filed in large tape libraries. Later computers started to use disk storage and that has gone through an evolution of reduced size and increased storage density from disk packs (3.5MB) to today's external harddrives (1/2/4 TB) storage).



    Most recently, solid-state-drives have hit the market with the advent of cheap SSDs though still 4 times more expensive per unit of storage than magnetic storage devices.


    For future technology we'll have to wait and see what wins out.
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