Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Space, The Final Frontier (Or, I Feel The Need, The Need For Speed)

Bit, bytes and nibbles. Not a restaurant review. They are all technical terms used to describe size, and it's worth understanding as they turn up in pretty much all aspects of computing.

A bit is the building block. It is the 0s and 1s that computers work with.

A nibble is 4 bits, but you'll barely ever hear it used outside random blog posts on the web.

A byte is 8 bits. It's how much space is needed for one character. So the letter A takes up one byte of space.

A kilobyte is not 1000 bytes but is actually 1024.

A megabtye is 1024 kilobytes.

A terabyte is 1024 megabytes.

So, pop quiz, your 1TB drive can contain how much data? 1024 x 1024 x 1024. 1,073,741,824 bytes or characters worth. Otherwise known by most people as 'large'. If it helps give you a sense of scale, the Encyclopaedia Britannica comes in at about 224,400,000 characters. So nearly 5 of them.

This whole area also impacts internet connection speeds. Let's say your provider quotes you 8Mb/s. That's 8 megaBITS, not bytes, a second. Going by our equations above, that's actually 1 megaBYTE per second. Some software or websites that report connection speeds report them as megabytes and the blood may drain from your face as it appears you're getting one-eighth of the connection speed you expected.

For many who have been involved in the computer world for some time, they were happy that their 80MB hard drive would never get full. Now TB drives are becoming the standard and my mobile phone has more memory than my first three computers combined.

Now excuse me, I have to go for my afternoon nap.

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