Bits or Bytes?

Numbers like 512MB and 300GB, which are common values for RAM and hard drive, can be very confusing. Today we dissect some of those numbers by defining bits, bytes and the ever-popular scientific notation. Computers are digital devices and therefore perform chores based on digits. The digital system used is binary, which has two digits 0 and 1. Using two digits makes it easy to represent the electrical conditions of on and off in a device. One digit is called a bit which comes from the b of binary and the it from digit. Where a single binary digit is a bit, a byte refers to eight binary digits. Most of the time something rated in bits will use a lower-case b while things rated in bytes will use a capital B. For example, a MODEM rated at 56Kb means 56K bits while a hard drive rated at 120GB means 120G bytes. Numbers that include letters such as K, M or G are numbers expressed with scientific notation. Scientific notation is an easy way to represent large or small numbers. The letters K, M and G are abbreviations of Kilo, Mega and Giga with Kilo representing thousands, Mega millions and Giga billions. So the number 256M actually is 256 million (256,000,000) and 360K is 360 thousand (360,000). Lets apply the concepts to a hard drive with a 500GB capacity. We know three things about the capacity 500, G and B, right? Applying the concepts we arrive at: 500 billion bytes. What about a common RAM value of 512MB? When applying the concepts we arrive at: 512 million bytes. Want to know more about bits and bytes? Visit: www.howstuffworks.com/bytes.htm. We are out of time once more. Thanks for reading and have a safe, productive week. Ron Poland is a professor in the Computer Information Systems AAS program at Clinton Community College. Mr. Poland is certified in computer repair and networking by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). He is also a Cisco certified network assistant.

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