Bits and Bytes and More

j247373If you have used your computer or smart phone or tablet for any time you may have noticed the use of such terms as kb or mb. What does it all mean, how important is it, and should I be afraid. For the most part, it is not all that important that the average computer user be well versed in this terminology. It can be helpful when trying to gauge storage requirements or internet speed issues. If you are a computer geek, you may find your self in an internet speed measuring contest, which is similar to an old-fashioned . . . well, never mind. Suffice it to say, bigger is almost always better when it comes to measuring speed and storage, but not when measuring file sizes.

As a brief tutorial it is important to know the units of measurement and what they mean. The smallest unit of measurement is a bit (b). Eight bits make up a byte (B). There are 256 possible arrangements of bits in a byte. This possible combinations can represent letters, numbers, symbols, etc. If you hit the letter A on your keyboard you have just cause a byte of information to be sent to your computer where it is stored in memory, or sent to your Facebook comment, or eventually stored on your hard drive. Now for those of you who studied the metric system in school and know that a kilo represents 1000 and a mega represents 1000 times 1000 would assume that a kilobyte represents 1000 bytes. You can assume this, but you will be wrong, at least most of the time. Typically, the multiplier in the computer world is 1024. There is a very good reason for this but it is well beyond the scope of this article to explain. Suffice it to say, as long as you know this, you are good to go.

Notice I previously said that the multiplier of 1024 is used only most of the time. One exception to this is that hard drive manufactures, when advertising drive size, use the multiplier of 1000. This will explain why when you buy a new 2 terabyte hard drive and then check the drive stats, you are seeing less than 2 terabytes of available storage. You were not cheated and there is nothing wrong with the hard drive. Possibly you were misled, but that is the nature of the beast.

Another point of confusion is the use of kilobits, megabits, and gigabits versus the use of kilobytes, megabytes, and gigabytes. In short, a kilobit is 1/8th of a kilobyte, a megabit is 1/8th a megabyte and so on. So if your Internet Service Provider (ISP) offers you speed of 10 Mbps (megabits per second) do not be confused and think you are moving your data across the wire at 10 Mbps (megabytes per second). Let me explain using the following example. If you have a 10Mb connection to the internet. And you want to send ten pictures of one MB each many will think that those ten pictures should be sent in one second but since they are comparing megabytes and megabits, then it will take eight times longer to send or approximately 8 seconds. Your calculations will vary because rated speed and actual speed are seldom the same. There are many variables that will effect actual speed.

Storage is rarely measured in bits versus bytes as internet speed is. Nor are file sizes measured in bits versus bytess. This means you can store approximately one byte of data on one byte of hard drive space. Actually this is only partially true due to hard drive technology and how it is formatted. It is good to use for a rough approximation of storage needs, but your mileage may vary depending of the sizes of the various files you are storing. This all has to do whit how the hard drive is formatted and what block sizes are used. This is beyond the scope of this article but if there are interested persons I will be happy to discuss hard drive block sizes in a future blog.

There you have it, the Reader’s Digest version of bits and bytes and the associated multiples of each. Just in case it ever comes up in a Trivial Pursuit game, a half byte is called a nibble (or nybble). However, you will never see files size, storage size, or internet speed measured in nibbles. I hope you find this information useful and I hope that it brings a degree of clarity as we continue to demystify technology. There is something to look forward to as file size and hard drive storage increases. After terabytes we have petabytes and exabyte on the horizon.

Thank you for patronizing the Townehouse Technologies blog. Feel free to comment or ask questions. As always, I promise to answer your questions or to at least make up something believable. Please consider liking, sharing, and subscribing.

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