Understanding File Sizes (Bytes vs KB vs MB vs GB)

Confused about file sizes? Then you are in the right place. In this simple guide, we’ll discuss the most important aspects that will help you to understand hard drive file sizes and internet speeds better. Let’s start by saying that file size refers to the amount of storage, memory and bandwidth consumed by a piece of digital data. It is simply how big a file is. In general, the larger the file, the longer it may take to open, to upload when you need to attach it to an email for example. In the same way, when you receive a large photo or try to download a long video file, the download process may be slower. It is also important to keep in mind that internet providers may set limits on the amount of data that can be downloaded per month and this also involved file size. When it comes to data plans, file size can have a significant impact because if you are downloading big files, you are likely to use up your data allowance and will end up paying more.

File Sizes on Computer Hard Drives

Gigabytes (GB) and Terabytes (TB) are generally used to measure hard drive file sizes. One of the most important details to check when you purchase a computer is the amount of space that it offers. Most modern computers feature several hundred gigabytes of space, which means that you are unlikely to run out of space, unless you store a large amount of media files. To give you an idea, if you mainly store Word documents in your computer, you probably won’t even get close to run out of space on a 1 TB hard drive.

Smartphone Space

Smartphone manufacturers have increased the capacity of these devices significantly. However, the amount of space available is still limited and if you install several apps, store videos and take many photos, your device will probably fill up very quickly. There is a lot of data that we are likely to keep on our mobile devices, which takes its toll on the amount of space available. Apps, text messages, videos, photos, songs and other files, contribute to filling up your smartphone. It should be noted that when you include a photo or video on a message, a copy of the file is saved by default in your text message database, even if it was already stored in another part of the device.

Internet Speeds

Internet transfer rates are measured using megaBITS per second and not megaBYTES, as some believe. Although many users think that when they purchase Internet from their ISP, they get, lets say 50 MegaBYTES, the reality is that they get 50 MegaBITS of transfer per second. A 50 MegaBIT internet can download 6.25 MegaBYTES of music per second, approximately. Put in a simple way, bytes refer to storage, while bits are used to refer to transmission speeds. In order to clarify further the difference between megabytes and megabits, we should take a closer look at what a byte is.

What is a Byte?

A byte is a sequence composed of 8 bits, which is enough the represent a letter or number and it is processed as a single unit of information. One character is represented by one byte of memory (8 bits), while two characters use two bytes, which equals 16 bits. A bit is essentially a true/false or on/off processed by a computer that is expressed as numbers, where 0 is false/off and 1 is not false/on. Bytes are what we use to pass data in its basic form – characters. An alphanumeric character, for example the letter “A”, is stored as 1 byte, using 8 bits: 01100001.

This binary code lets the computer know that the letter you want to type is “A” and as previously mentioned, this letter would only take one byte to store. Each letter of the English alphabet would use one byte, but it is important that non-alphanumeric characters like some symbols and characters used in languages such as Chinese, would require multiple bytes to be represented.

How to Convert File Sizes (Bytes to KB, KB to MB and MB to GB)

A simple way to convert from Megabytes to Gigabytes or from Kibibytes to Gibibytes is to perform a quick search on Google. The popular search engine features a unit converter that can handle plan language queries and deliver results within seconds. You just need to ask the converted to let you know how many megabytes are 1000 gigabytes (simply enter convert GB to MB) and the answer will be displayed in your results. The unit converter supports different categories and you can change the type of conversion in the drop down menu.

Files are often represented in terms of kilobytes and for larger files, megabytes are used. Below, you will find a summary that can help you to get a better understanding of file sizes. Keep in mind that these are the decimal values used as standard by manufacturers and dealers.However, these are not the actual values as we will see later on.

  • Bit – a value of 1 or 0, 1 being “on” and 0, being “off”.
  • Byte: 8 bits – Bytes are used to refer to storage. One character such as the letter “A” is one byte.
  • Kilobyte (KB) – 1,000 bytes. It is the equivalent to 2 or 3 paragraphs pf text.
  • Megabyte (MB) – 1,000 Kilobytes. This would be roughly 4 books of 200 pages each or 240,000 characters.
  • Gigabyte (GB) – 1,000 Megabytes. The equivalent would be over 4,000 books of 200 pages/240,000 characters, or 640 web pages (1.6MB average file size), 340 photos (with an average file size of 3MB), or over 250 MP3 audio files.
  • It is also worth mentioning Terabytes. A Terabyte equals 1,024 Gigabytes. This would be over 4 million books, over 650,000 web pages, almost 350,000 pictures, more than 260,000 MP3 audio files, or 40 25GB Blu-ray discs.

Difference Between MB and MiB

The units with the “ibi” prefix such as kibibyte, mebibyte and gibibyte, are calculated using base 2 (binary). Kilobytes, megabytes and gigabytes are calculated using base 10 (decimal) and they have become the most popular standard. In order to cater for the need in the computer world for base-1024 (binary), the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission), also set a new standard of binary prefixes.

Originally, computer scientists borrowed conventions from the metric system to manage storage space. Instead of representing 1000 in its binary form as it wouldn’t be practical, they opted for the power of 2 that is closest to 1000, which is 1024.

What you need to keep in mind is that the decimal standard is still used by manufacturers so they advertise 1 MB as 1000 KB when creating a storage product like a USB drive. However, computers understand only binary units and in reality 1 megabyte equals 1,024 kilobytes instead of 1,000 kilobytes. As such, a 250GB hard drive actually offers 232GB

Name Symbol Equivalent to Name Symbol Equivalent to
Kilobyte KB 1024 b Kilobit Kbit 1000 bit
Megabyte MB 1024 KB Megabit Mbit 1000 kbit
Gigabyte GB 1024 MB Gigabit Gbit 1000 mbit
Terabyte TB 1024 GB Terabit Tbit 1000 gbit
Petabyte PB 1024 TB Petabit Pbit 1000 tbit
Exabyte EB 1024 PB Exabit Ebit 1000 ebit
Zettabyte ZB 1024 EB Zettabit Zbit 1000 zbit
Yottabyte YB 1024 ZB Yottabit Ybit 1000 ybit
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