Computer data storage, often called storage or memory, is a technology consisting of computer components and recording media that are used to retain digital data. It is a core function and fundamental component of computers.:15-16
The central processing unit (CPU) of a computer is what manipulates data by performing computations. In practice, almost all computers use a storage hierarchy,:468-473 which puts fast but expensive and small storage options close to the CPU and slower but larger and cheaper options farther away. Generally the fast volatile technologies (which lose data when off power) are referred to as "memory", while slower persistent technologies are referred to as "storage"; however, "memory" is sometimes also used when referring to persistent storage.
In the Von Neumann architecture, the CPU consists of two main parts: The control unit and the arithmetic logic unit (ALU). The former controls the flow of data between the CPU and memory, while the latter performs arithmetic and logical operations on data.
A modern digital computer represents data using the binary numeral system. Text, numbers, pictures, audio, and nearly any other form of information can be converted into a string of bits, or binary digits, each of which has a value of 1 or 0. The most common unit of storage is the byte, equal to 8 bits. A piece of information can be handled by any computer or device whose storage space is large enough to accommodate the binary representation of the piece of information, or simply data. For example, the complete works of Shakespeare, about 1250 pages in print, can be stored in about five megabytes (40 million bits) with one byte per character.
Data is encoded by assigning a bit pattern to each character, digit, or multimedia object. Many standards exist for encoding (e.g., character encodings like ASCII, image encodings like JPEG, video encodings like MPEG-4).