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File Sizes Made Easy

Pop quiz! If I were to ask you what KB stood for could you tell me? What about MB and GB? And if you know what they stand for how much space do they provide? And while you’re at it, how are they related to each other?

How did you do? So what do they stand for, how much space are they, how are they related and why do I care? Those are all pretty great questions, lets get some answers.

My first question in the pop quiz was what do KB, MB and GB stand for? If you answered kilobyte, megabyte and gigabyte then give yourselves three points. It’s almost always easier to use abbreviations and I do believe this is one of those times. Instead of saying their full names, it’s a lot easier to just say or type KB, MB and GB. The upside to saying the names rather than the abbreviations is that you kind of get an understanding of how big they are.

Do you remember back in grade school when you had to learn prefixes such as kilo-? Do you remember what a kilo is (bonus question!)? If you remembered that it was 1000 then give yourself an extra point. So looking at the word kilobyte we should be able to figure out that it should be a thousand of something. But of what?

Without getting too deep in the techno babble a kilobyte is 1024 bytes. I know I know, we just said a kilo is 1000. But in the computer science world a kilo is 1024. So now we know a kilobyte is 1024 bytes. But what is a byte?

A byte is a way computer scientists measure bits. And a bit is a unit of information. Holy cow, do you feel your brain getting warm yet? Stay with me, this will all make sense in a minute. Each byte is 8 bits. That’s all we need to remember about bytes and bits.

So remember we said each kilobyte is 1024 bytes meaning it is 1024 units of information. What about megabytes and gigabytes? Well a megabyte is 1,048,576 bytes or 1,048,576 units of information. And lastly, a gigabyte is 1,073,741,824 bytes or 1,073,741,824 units of information. If you knew the measures of them go ahead and give yourself 50 points (honor system, people!).

So if you’re like most people, seeing all of those numbers probably made your eyes go fuzzy and your brain hum. It’s ok, most people don’t need to remember all of that on a day to day basis. What is helpful to know though is how much each one stores. This comes in handy when you have to decide what size to save pictures or audio files in or how big you want the hard drive you’re purchasing to be.

Let’s think in terms of books, those are pretty easy for all of us to picture. Take the kilobyte first. We said it could store 1,024 bytes of information which in the terms of a book it would be a very short story. Like half a page of typed words short. Can you believe that 1,024 bytes of information can only give you half a page? Well it gets better from here, I promise.

Next we have the megabyte which was 1,048,576 bytes of information. That should get me a pretty decent number of pages, right? Well I would say 500 pages would be a decent amount. One megabyte is the equivalent of 500 typed pages, comparable to a novel. What about the gigabyte? Drum roll please . . . a gigabyte will get you 1000 books (500 pages per book).

So when it comes to -bytes it is clear the bigger the better! Now if you knew all of the information about how much information they have in terms of book sizes go ahead and give yourself 300 points.


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