Ever wondered, “where does the operating system reside on my computer?” You’re in luck, because that’s exactly what we’re going to answer in this article! Join us while we look at what the operating system is, where you can find it stored, and how it is loaded during the process of start-up by your machine.
Wait, what’s an operating system?
When any user is working on a computer, the operating system is the software that’s controlling everything that’s happening, in real-time.
In order to understand where the operating system is stored on the device, you need to understand the difference between the different kinds of memory, RAM vs hard disk. (We’ll also throw in a few extra acronyms for your IT vocabulary!)
Simply put, RAM, (which stands for Random Access Memory) is the temporary storage on your computer, while the hard disk is the permanent memory. Every time you turn off your computer, the RAM will be erased, while the hard disk or hard drive data (HDD) will be kept for the long-term.
It’s much faster to collect data from RAM, which is why the Central Processing Unit (CPU) relies on RAM to get the information it needs. The CPU will be what performs actions, sends and receives data, and basically controls everything that happens while you or your colleagues and customers are using the machine. That’s why you want communication to be as quick as possible. Ideally, we would store everything in RAM!
However, the more full your RAM is, the longer it will take to draw information, and there is a finite amount of space in this local memory. That’s why we tell customers to give their machines a quick reboot to see if that speeds up processing time, and why we keep larger files and applications on the hard drive.
As RAM is wiped every time the machine shuts off, and you wouldn’t want to lose your operating system every time you left your desk for the evening, the answer to where your operating system resides is… in the hard drive.
Why did I think the operating system is stored on RAM?
Great question! The operating system is stored on the hard disk, but to speed up the whole process, the OS is copied into RAM on start-up. This is completed by BIOS (Basic Input Output System).
Here’s how it works. BIOS is in its element for the start up sequence of your computer, and then once you’re all booted up, it actually does very little. Stored on the read-only memory of the computer, (Often known as ROM) it controls all of your computer hardware, including the hard drive. That means it’s responsible for loading the operating system from the hard drive when you start up your machine.
Top tip: When your computer is starting up, hit F2, and you’ll be able to make amendments to where the BIOS loads your operating system from. This means if you want to load an operating system from a CD, or even from a USB drive – you can do this really quickly and easily.
Ok, sorry for the tangent – let’s get back to RAM. As we said, the BIOS is responsible for loading the operating system, but remember the big problem? Grabbing information from the hard disk is a slow way to work. To combat this, and speed up the whole start up process, the BIOS copies the whole operating system to RAM. Now, the CPU doesn’t have to load information from the hard disk (slow), as it can get all the information it needs from RAM (super speedy).
While users are utilizing the operating system, all of this information is leveraged from the copy – the one that is stored in RAM. However, the “real” version of the operating system remains on the hard drive, and stays in non-volatile memory that will not be deleted or changed. You can see a step by step version of how it works below.
Where is Windows 10 stored?
If you’re looking for the system files of your Windows OS, you’ll probably find them in C:\Windows, usually in specific subfolders, like /System32 and /SysWOW64. Some files may be hidden in your C drive.
Where is Mac OS stored?
The macOS installer is found in the Applications folder, and you can look into specific system information in the System folder, as well as in the folder called Library.
Where is the OS stored on Chromebooks?
Although the majority of work and storage on Chromebooks uses the cloud, there is about 64GB of local storage on a Chromebook, some of which is used for the operating system, Chrome OS. To find system files, you’ll need to log in with developer mode.
Which operating systems allow me to use Atera?
To install the Atera agent, you’ll need to be running any of the following operating systems.
- Microsoft OS: On Windows, you’ll want Windows 7 SP1 and above, and be sure to enable TLS 1.2.
- Microsoft Server: Any version from 2008 and above
- MacOS: 10.13 and more recent, which is anything since High Sierra.
If you meet these prerequisites, you’re good to go, and you can start using Atera to monitor and manage all of your devices, your corporate IT environment, or your customer sites.