How your computer is organized to store data

Your computer has a small box inside called a “hard drive”. It is a sealed container that has one or more plastic round disks inside that are spinning at a very high speed and two or more tiny little arms that dart across the surfaces without touching them. The space between the arms and the disks is so small that a particle of smoke won’t fit. That is why the hard drive in a portable computer is so delicate. That is where your programs and data are stored.

Open Computer from your Start menu, you will find a list of devices that are attached to your computer. One of them is called “C:” That is your hard drive. Data and programs (AKA applications) are organized by use of an index. The index on the hard drive has file names and specific locations on the disks. When your computer needs something stored there, it looks it up in the index then the little arms move to that location and read the information stored there into memory.

Memory should not be confused with hard drive storage. Memory is a relatively small place that is very temporary. It is used by your computer to move things in and out of processes.

The hard drive is actually a pretty safe and reliable storage device, but keep in mind it can wear out or fail. You should never attempt to manipulate, move or change programs of any kind. But, you should definitely manage your data.

Windows has two concepts for storage. One is a “file” and the second is a “folder.” Think of the system just like a filing cabinet in which an individual file is a piece of paper and a folder is just that, a folder. However, unlike a physical filing system, there is no limit on how many folders you can have inside of folders which are inside folders, etc.

The only really important folder for you to manage is the Documents folder. That is where all of your data should be. You can access your Documents folder right from your menu. Out of the box, new Windows computers have a Documents folder as well as many folders inside that folder, for example Music and Pictures. With few exceptions, your programs will by default store the files you create or change in your Documents folder.

Over time, you will probably build up a very large number of files and folders inside your Documents folder. You really should think about organizing them by creating logical folders (just like in a file cabinet) and moving your files into them. It will make finding them so much easier when you are frustrated because you can not find them in the morass of a huge list. Also, when ever you save a file, give it a title that will be meaningful to you or someone else several years from now.