Bits and Bytes πŸ’Ύ Data Storage Measurements Explained – DIY in 5 Ep 164

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Published on 4 Feb 2022, 19:30
How are bits different than bytes? Megabytes vs Gigabytes? Units of measure for computer data have not been historically the easiest to keep straight. But if you are shopping new storage or memory for your device this memory units guide will have you covered.

Bits vs Bytes
Bits vs Bytes. A bit is one single binary digit and it’s either a 0 or a 1. bits represented by a small “b” as in mb for “megabits”. A byte is typically 8 bits, and together one byte usually represents a character like a letter or number. Bytes are abbreviated with a large “B” as in Megabytes. This is especially important when looking at internet speeds for example. If you have a 100Mbps download speed that is very different than 100MB/s, 8 times less in fact. Since internet speeds are normally measured in megabits per second, this can get rather confusing for folks unfamiliar with the smallest units of data measurement. Just think, larger B - large, small b - small.

Most memory is measured from here in bytes - you’ve probably heard of kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes and so on. In practice, a kilobyte means 1000 bytes, but because of how the binary system works, one kilobyte actually equals 1024 bytes, not an even 1000. This difference gets larger as we go up the ladder. Therefore a 250GB hard drive may only display 232GB of usable storage for example - because humans and computers measure things differently.

kilo is 1000, mega is 1000 (technically 1024) of those, giga is 1000 (technically 1024) of those and so on. That’s the most confusing part of all of this. Once we acknowledge that then the prefixes mean just what you would think. To put it in perspective, one kilobyte - capital K capital B - is roughly one very short story. Graphics of small websites may range from 5-100 kilobytes.

A megabyte, or capital M capital B - is roughly 1000 that size so 1 megabyte is approximately 4 full books worth of data. A high-resolution photo may be approx. 2MB. A 3-minute song saved in a compressed version may be roughly 3MB in size, and the uncompressed version may take up to 30 MB of disk space. Next up, times it by 1000 again and you get a Gigabyte, capital G capital B - or sometimes abbreviated as “gigs.” 1GB worth of data is about one movie at TV quality or 230 music tracks or 600 5-megapixel photos.

Now anything that can hold more than 1000 gigs, will be measured in terabytes or capital T capital B. At this point we are looking at one trillion bytes of information and that’s a lot! A basic CD holds about 700MB, and a DVD holds roughly 4.7GB. You'd thus need nearly 1,430 CDs or 213 DVDs to get one terabyte of storage! You may see new computers or gaming consoles offering 1 TB or larger hard drives and if you download many AAA games, high-res movies, or deal with large files on the regular for your job, you may even want to upgrade beyond that, so you might consider Kingston SSDs.

Beyond 1TB, but technically 1024 TBs of data is known as a petabyte or capital P, capital B. This is one thousand units of one trillion - so one quadrillion bytes. Most of the consumer storage devices can hold a maximum of a few TBs, therefore, petabytes are rarely used to measure memory capacity of a single device. Instead, Petabytes are used to measure the total data stored in large networks or server farms. For example, Internet Giants like Google and Facebook store more than over 100 PBs of data on their data servers. Games like World of Warcraft need online servers that can handle 1.5 petabytes of storage to run and the US Library of Congress contains over 7 petabytes of digital data in its archives. I know the scale of petabytes can seem hard to conceptualize but once you start thinking about these larger real-life scenarios, you can see why we need a term for it.
Beyond Petabytes, we have terms like Exabyte, or capital E capital B, Zettabyte - ZB, and Yottabyte - YB. These units of measurement are so large you will probably never really need to know them, not yet at least. But hey, the sky’s the limit for the future! For perspective, several hundred exabytes of data are transferred over the internet in a year. All the data in the world is just a few zettabytes and yottabytes at this point are used for conceptualizations only. But now you know.

It’s wild to think how far we’ve come in just a few short decades in terms of consumer storage and where we might be in the next 5-10 years.

Hosted by @Trisha Hershberger

0:00 Intro
0:59 Bits vs. Bytes: basic units of data
2:14 Kilobytes: small files
2:42 Megabytes: music and photo files
3:05 Gigabytes: video and game files
3:23 Terabytes: consumer-level storage
4:15 Petabytes: enterprise-level storage and beyond
5:54 Outro