Computer Data Storage Terms Defined

Sometimes it can be difficult to keep your kilobytes separate from your gigabytes– but really it’s all fairly simple! Here’s a quick guide to differentiating between computer storage units.

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Data  Capacities

A bit is the smallest possible unit of data measure on a computer. The computer stores bits of information as either 1 or a 0 in binary code. Bits are much too small to be worthwhile on their own.

Bytes are comprised of 8 bits. This is about the amount of data it takes to store one letter of text. Bytes make up the building blocks of all other amount of data storage. From this point on everything simply scales up.

Kilobytes (KB) are packages of 1024 bytes.  Single kilobytes are very small by today’s standards, but a single kilobyte of storage amounts to a couple paragraphs of text.

Megabytes (MB) consist of packets of 1024 Kilobytes. Smaller-resolution pictures or multiple books worth of text would be around 1MB.

Gigabytes (GB) are units consisting of 1024 Megabytes. This would equal roughly 250 songs on your computer, assuming they average about 4 minutes each. Many modern laptops come with hard drives with around 300-500GB of storage space.

A Terabyte (TB) is the largest unit of measure in modern-day personal computing. Terybytes consist of 1024 Gigabytes of storage space. This is roughly the total storage space of mid-range hard disk drives or very high-end solid state drives.


All these different names simply re-name large sets of Bytes. Sure, a Megabyte is the same thing as 1,048,576 bytes, but there’s no reason to still use such a small unit of measure for such a large number.

Standards for data storage change constantly. For example, in 1990 the average hard drive could only hold 1GB of data. Today’s standards are about 500 to 1000 times larger than that. Anything is out of date in the computer world five or ten years in the future, and data storage capacities are no different.

Take note that this isn’t as high as the scale goes, but it’s as high as you’ll ever see for modern personal computing use. For example, Petabytes consist of 1024 Terabytes, and Exabytes consist of 1024 Petabytes– but these sizes aren’t yet feasible in the home office.



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About the Author
Brian Galloway is an unabashed tech geek based in Nashville, Tennessee. When he's not obsessively searching for the next computer upgrade, he's probably curled up on the couch with a book and the day's third cup of coffee.

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