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

Understanding file sizes is easier than you think. In this article we’ll discuss why you should have a basic understanding of hard drive file sizes and Internet speeds.

Understanding Files Sizes On Computer Hard Drives

Hard drive file sizes are typically measured in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB) so you’ll want to know how much space you’re getting when you buy a new computer. Most computers come with several hundred gigabytes of space so unless you’re storing a LOT of music and movies you probably won’t run out of space before the computer needs replaced.

Q. I have several hundred Word documents on my computer. Will I run out of space on my 1 TB hard drive? A. No, you won’t even come close.

Smartphone Space

While smartphone sizes have steadily increased there are still limitations that might cause you to fill up your phone before it’s time to upgrade to the next version.

In addition to music and movies your phone also stores lots of apps, podcasts, pictures, and text messages. Each text message takes up a tiny bit of space which means that every time you send or receive a photo or video a copy is kept in your text message database even if you have the same photo or video stored elsewhere on your phone.

Internet Speeds

Internet transfer rates are measured in megaBITS per second not megaBYTES. When you order Internet service for your home you aren’t ordering 50 MegaBYTES, you’re ordering 50 MegaBITS of transfer per second.

For example, a 50 MegaBIT Internet connection will download approximately 6.25 MegaBYTES of music in one second which is roughly two short songs.

For more on the confusion between megabits and megabytes you can read this humorous article about one man’s troubles with his ISP, Quest/CenturyLink.

So, What Is A Byte?

Notepad with the alphabet next to the windows properties page

The alphabet is 26 bytes long

A byte is made up of 8 bits which is essentially just a true/false or on/off flag for computers expressed as the numbers 0 (false) and 1 (not false).

For example, the letter “a” looks like this in binary: 01100001

All those zeros and ones tell the computer to print an “a” on the screen.

You can think of a byte as a single character or number. The letter “a” takes one byte to store. If you typed the alphabet into Windows Notepad the file properties would show the size as 26 bytes.

Note that some non-alphanumeric characters like symbols and foreign language characters (e.g., Chinese, Japanese) can use multiple bytes to describe one character.

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

Google Converter for File SizesOne of the easiest ways to convert from Megabytes to Gigabytes or Kibibytes to Gibibytes is to use Google Search.

Google’s unit converter will take a plain language query like, “convert 1000 gigabytes to megabytes” and show you the answer in your search results.

Use the two drop-down boxes to change your conversions and type directly over the numbers to get different results.

What’s The Difference Between MB Vs. Mib?

You may have seen some new terms and abbreviations lately when shopping for new computers, buying small storage devices, or purchasing new Internet service. The IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) has updated the terminology surrounding file sizes that have only recently come to consumer products.

In short, the original methods of specifying file sizes were flawed so they added some additional words to better describe and categorize files sizes.

Brief History Of Hard Drive Sizes

Back when computers had just started to gain popularity marketers didn’t want to confuse the customer with a lot of binary math so they expressed hard drive sizes using decimal, rather than binary, notation.

A 10 GB hard drive was advertised as 10,000 Megabytes (decimal) instead of 9,536.74 Mebibytes (binary) which is what is used more often today.

File Size Conversion Table

NameSymbolEqual toNameIECEqual to
KilobyteKB1024 BKilobitkbit1000 bit
MegabyteMB1024 KBMegabitMbit1000 kbit
GigabyteGB1024 MBGigabitGbit1000 Mbit
TerabyteTB1024 GBTerabitTbit1000 Gbit
PetabytePB1024 TBPetabitPbit1000 Tbit
ExabyteEB1024 PBExabitEbit1000 Pbit
ZettabyteZB1024 EBZettabitZbot1000 Ebit
YottabyteYB1024 ZBYottabitYbit1000 Zbit

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