A computer’s operating system is the main software component, without which your PC isn’t operable.
It controls everything inside the computer and connects hardware to software.
Since it’s an intangible part of the computer, you may not know much about it as it generally runs flawlessly, and users take it for granted.
However, you may wonder whether it works like other pieces of software or not.
For example, where does it go after you install it on your computer?
Where Is The Operating System Stored? (How To Find)
The operating system is installed and stored on the hard drive, a computer’s physical memory, to save and store data permanently.
The operating system is a piece of software essential for running and using your computer.
It should be stored on the part of the computer that permanently stores it and gives you access to its contents whenever you turn on the computer.
Even if you have two operating systems on the same device, both of them are stored on the hard disk.
For example, Mac computers allow you to install macOS and Windows on the same device using the Boot Camp feature.
In such cases, both operating systems are stored on the hard disk, which is why you’ll need much bigger storage to house both operating systems.
You may wonder what part of the hard disk the operating system is on and how you can find it.
The hard disk has different partitions labeled Drive C, D, E, F, etc.
These partitions allow you to organize your data and files more effectively by allocating space based on your requirements.
You can find your operating system commonly stored in Drive C, while other user-generated files are stored on other drives/partitions.
The OS files are in different folders labeled with your username, system file, AppData, etc.
You can also find your operating system files inside the Windows folder on Drive C.
If something goes wrong with the operating system, you can replace it with a working version without affecting your stored files on other drives.
If you’re unsure where your operating system is stored, open File Explorer to see the main drives.
Your Windows is installed on the drive with a Windows logo next to its icon.
It’s hard to miss because only one of them has this logo.
However, most system files are hidden in different parts of Drive C because they’re highly critical, and accidentally deleting them will damage your operating system.
As a result, it’s always recommended to leave them alone.
If you insist on finding these hidden files, you can make them unhidden in File Explorer.
Go to File Explorer and click on the View tab.
Click Options > Change folder and search options.
Go to the View tab and uncheck Hide protected operating system files.
Again, altering these files is not recommended, and you should never unhide them if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Different Types Of Computer Memory
When it comes to computer memory, you may think of the space on your computer where you store your photos, movies, games, or documents.
While that’s valid, it’s not everything.
Computers have different types of storage to save and handle data.
These storage types serve various purposes since they have different characteristics.
The following are the main types of memories used in a computer:
1. Primary Memory
Also known as System Memory, this type of memory consists of ROM (Read-Only Memory) and RAM (Random Access Memory).
Although these two memory types are essential and close to the CPU, they serve different purposes.
The RAM, which you can see as RAM sticks inserted in slots near the CPU, is a volatile memory.
Think of it as a desk or workspace on which you put your work.
You’re always working at this desk when the computer is on.
After finishing work, you take your files to the shelves where your store your work.
The CPU accesses parts of RAM without a specific order (hence the name Random) to make things fast, which is the primary purpose of the RAM.
When you open a program, which can be a document, a photo, or a browser page, it’s transferred from the permanent memory to RAM, which is closer to the CPU.
Every click or keystroke that changes the data in these programs is stored on RAM.
This way, the processor doesn’t need to wait too long for reading and writing.
Since this memory type is volatile, you’ll lose your data if you don’t store it on the permanent memory or your system shuts down before saving.
When you hit the Save button in a file, it goes to the permanent memory.
On the other hand, ROM is only for reading the information, but it’s non-volatile.
As a result, it saves permanent data that don’t change constantly.
You can’t change its contents, and it doesn’t lose its data when the computer shuts off or loses power.
As you may have guessed, the data stored on your computer’s ROM isn’t directly accessible to you.
It includes the system’s BIOS, the essential part of the system bootup.
That’s why you may have never heard of ROM since it’s commonly referred to as BIOS in the computing community.
It contains the bootstrap code that helps the computer transfer the operating system to RAM and start the system.
One of the main differences between RAM and ROM is that the latter can’t directly talk to the processor.
It has to transfer its information to RAM, which sends it to the processor to execute.
Since the information on the ROM isn’t changeable, you don’t need to worry about accidentally deleting or editing it.
2. Cache Memory
Cache memory is another volatile memory integrated onto the motherboard and CPU.
Since it’s faster than RAM, it’s located between the RAM and CPU and is used to store the data frequently used in the system temporarily.
However, it doesn’t store the entire file.
Instead, it keeps instances of that file that the CPU uses more frequently.
As a result, the CPU doesn’t need to get these instances from the RAM, making things much faster.
If there are no such instances on the cache memory, the CPU gets it from other memory types and creates a copy of them in the cache memory.
The cache memory should be smaller than RAM to speed up the data transfer process.
As a result, it can sit closer to the CPU.
However, the smaller cache memory capacity can’t store large amounts of data, slowing down the transfer speed.
We have different types (or levels) of cache memory based on their proximity to the CPU and size.
We have Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 cache memories, each with different capacities, speeds, and purposes.
3. Virtual Memory
Virtual memory is a smart solution to free up RAM space for important computing tasks.
If you have low RAM space, virtual memory can help you increase it more effectively and cheaply than buying an external storage device.
A virtual memory frees up memory space by transferring the files not currently in use from the RAM to the hard disk, which has some parts of it allocated to virtual memory.
Paging and segmenting are two techniques used by a virtual memory to extend RAM space.
Both of these techniques extend the memory space by allocating virtual memory.
The only difference is that paging creates equal memory blocks while segmenting creates blocks of varying lengths.
4. External Memory
In addition to the internal, primary memory, which is essential to the operation of the operating system, you can also use external memories.
This memory stores data permanently and doesn’t lose its data when you shut down the computer.
It doesn’t talk to the processor directly and requires RAM or other types of internal memory to work as a medium in transferring its data to the CPU.
The main reason is that external memory devices are slow and can’t transfer data at the speed required for the fast operation of the CPU.
Here are the most common types of external memory.
A. Physical Hard Disks
Hard disks are magnetic storage devices that store data on magnetic-coated platters.
These platters spin to read and write data using a spindle that moves on the platters.
These hard drives can store terabytes of data, making them a great storage device for professional and general users.
However, they’re subject to wear and tear due to their moving parts.
In addition, they’re more sensitive to drops and falls, leading to a permanent data loss if dropped.
Hard disks aren’t the only type of magnetic storage device.
Magnetic tape and floppy disks also use the same technology to store data.
Hard drives can be used in the computer externally and internally.
Every computer has an internal hard drive that stores data permanently.
You can also use external hard drives that connect to the computer via a USB device and help you increase your storage space.
B. Solid State Drives
Solid state storage devices are a more recent type of storage that uses silicon chips to store and read data.
As a result, they don’t have moving parts, making them faster, more secure, and less vulnerable to wear and tear and damage.
The lack of moveable parts makes them smaller and more suitable for laptops.
However, they’re more expensive and have smaller storage capacities than hard drives.
They use the same technology as the USB flash drives, the only difference being capacity and form factor.
C. Optical Storage Devices
CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Ray are three types of optical storage devices that use a laser beam to read and write data.
These disks are coated with reflective material that accepts data through the unreflective spots created by the laser.
The areas not affected by the laser are called lands, which remain unburned and encode the stored data.
These storage devices are pretty reliable and can store large amounts of data.
However, they can’t beat recent technologies, like the SSD, with significantly higher capacities and speeds.
Places To Store Your Operating System
Now that you know different computer memory types, you can understand how the operating system storage works.
Like any software program and app, the operating system has to be stored in permanent memory.
When you turn on your system, the OS is transferred to the RAM so the processor can retrieve and process data quickly.
When you turn off the system, the RAM will be emptied, and the OS will return to the permanent memory.
However, your internal hard disk isn’t the only type of permanent memory that can store the operating system.
You can store it on your SSD, an external HDD, and even a flash drive or DVD.
Many users prefer to keep their operating systems on a storage device other than their internal hard disks to free up space for their storage.
For example, when you store your operating system on an SSD, you can store your photos, movies, and documents on your internal HDD.
These programs don’t need fast read and write speeds.
On the other hand, since the SSD is much faster than the HDD, it’s a perfect choice to store your operating system.
As a result, you’ll get faster bootup, allowing you to load and use your OS in a few seconds.
You can allocate a separate drive to the OS on the SSD and partition your hard drive for storing other permanent files.
You can also have bootable USB drives that store the operating system.
When you connect the drive to the computer, the operating system boots up.
This way, you can have more than one operating system on your computer.
It can be two versions of the same operating system, such as Windows 10 and 11, or two different operating systems, such as Windows and Linux.
Booting up a computer from a USB device is pretty straightforward.
After inserting the drive into the USB port, restart your computer and enter BIOS.
Change the boot sequence and give the USB priority.
After restarting your computer, it will load the OS on the USB.
The same thing goes for other external storage devices.
All you need to do is create the ISO file and store it on the storage device.
Is The OS Connected To The Motherboard?
If you’ve ever changed your motherboard, you may have noticed that you need to install a new operating system.
However, the hard drive and motherboard are two different components that aren’t connected.
In other words, a hard drive isn’t like a CPU mounted on the motherboard.
Why should you change your operating system after changing the motherboard?
The main reason is that the operating system facilitates the smooth operation of the motherboard.
It downloads and installs the drivers required for motherboard components and helps the hardware and software communicate flawlessly.
When you change your motherboard, the OS’s current drivers may not be compatible with the new hardware.
There’s also the question of licensing.
Your Windows license is stored in the motherboard and tied to it.
As a result, when you change your motherboard, Windows can’t identify a valid license.
However, you don’t need to purchase a new license if you have your Windows product key.
As long as you get a fresh install of the operating system, you’re good to go.
How Does The Operating System Boot Up?
When you turn on your computer, several backstage processes should complete successfully so that you can start using your PC.
Here’s what happens:
After powering on the computer, the CPU receives power to send commands to the ROM/BIOS, which is the primary startup component.
The BIOS starts the POST (Power-On Self-Test) process, a series of routine hardware checks to ensure everything runs smoothly.
It also activates the monitor, keyboard, and other connected hardware and looks for the RAM to load the operating system.
After checking the hardware and completing the POST, the BIOS will look for the operating system and load it on RAM.
Now, the OS takes over and starts communicating with the CPU from the RAM.