Computer technology has a lot of lingo, and if you’re buying a computer you need to know at least enough to understand the specs. Here’s a primer on the basic units of computer storage.
A bit is the tiniest piece of information on a computer–we can think of it as having the value of “0” or “1”, on or off. We don’t usually talk about bits, in the same way we don’t worry too much about pennies in our purchases: they’re too small to be of much consequence.
A byte is a less precise term, but today it is generally accepted as eight bits. You can think of a byte as enough space to store a single alphanumeric character or symbol. Computer storage is measured in multiples of bytes.
Armed with this information, we can add prefixes to form new terms for larger measurements:
A kilobyte (abbreviated KB) is roughly equivalent to one thousand bytes. Technically, it’s equal to 1,024 bytes, but rounding it to 1,000 is close enough.
A megabyte (abbreviated MB) is roughly 1,000 kilobytes or one million bytes.
A gigabyte (abbreviated GB) is roughly 1,000 megabytes or one billion bytes.
A terabyte (abbreviated TB) is roughly 1,000 gigabyte or one trillion bytes.
Mega = 1,000,000
Giga = 1,000,000,000
Tera = 1,000,000,000,000
A trillion bytes! That is a tremendous amount of memory for text, if you remember that each byte can store a character. If all we’re talking about is text, that’s more than 250 million pages!
These days, though, we store photos and music and videos, and it’s much harder to conceive of how much storage we actually need. Next time we’ll look at the difference between computer RAM and disk storage, and how much of them you might find on a new computer.