Bits, Bytes & Bandwidth Oh My!

On 02/04/2012, in How it works, by Norman Dean

Today I will explain in numbers and easy to understand analogies what are bits, bytes & bandwidth and how they compare to each other.

A Bit is one piece of data represented by either a 1 or a 0, a switch on (1) or off (0). The bit is the most basic part of any computer language. Compare it to a single letter of the alphabet. This most basic language is called binary. A bit is always detoned in an acronym by a small ‘b’, I.E. Your internet speed is 5Mbps.

A Byte is 8 bits, it is the word of the computer world. The best analogy is that you when reading a book you don’t just read the individual letters you read the words.

Why 8? There over the history of computers have been several variations of the Byte size some being 4 bits, 6, 7, and then finally 8. It turned out that it is the most efficient size for a for a processor.  Modern processors have overgrown the limitations of the 8bit byte and now can process data in bytes the size of 64bits and even 128 bits. But the basic use of the 8bit byte is still used to this day for posterity sake.  Bytes are always used to denote the amount of storage a device is capable of storing. A Byte is always denoted by a large B in an acronym I.E. Your hard drive is 5GB or GigaBytes.

The varying sized chunks are always in multiples of a byte witch is 8. Here is a small list from multiples of bytes to bytes to bits :

1 Byte = 8 bits

1 Kilobyte = 1024 Bytes = 8192 bits

1 Megabyte = 1 048 576 Bytes = 8 388 608 bits

1 Gigabyte = 1 073 741 824 Bytes = 8 589 934 592 bits

1 Terabyte = 1 099 511 627 776 Bytes = 8.79609302 × 1012 bits

To make things easy and difficult at the same time the data storage industry started using round numbers instead of the total Bytes when listing the capacity of their drives. This led to lots of confusion when a customer purchased a 5GB hard drive witch should hold 5 368 709 120 Bytes the operating system said that there was only 4.65GB. The industry was not using the proper term for a Byte by rounding down to the lowest 1000. So instead of a KiloByte equaling 1024 bytes it equaled 1000 bytes. There was a lawsuit filed suing computer manufactures for wrongly stating their storage capacities see here.

When to use the bit and byte and what are there acronyms.

When you are speaking about data transmission speed, one always uses bits because unlike processors networking devices process data chunks in bits (this is not always the correct). The acronym for data transmission speeds per second is small ‘b’ for bits, small ‘p’ for per, & small ‘s’ for seconds ‘bps’. When you see a upper case in front of ‘bps’ it denotes multiples of bits per second times 1024.

bps = Bits per second

Kbps = Kilo bits per second = 1024 bits per second

Mbps = Mega bits per second = 1 048 576 bits per second

Gbps = Giga bits per second = 1 073 741 824 bits per second

Tbps = Tera bits per second = 1 099 511 627 776 bits per second


What is Bandwidth?

Bandwidth is just a term for bit-rate denoted by the terms listed above. So when someone says you have a bandwidth of 5Mbps you know know that its just the amount of bits you can send or receive over your internet connection.


And now you know…… and know is half the battle…. G.I. Joooooeeeee!

Norman Dean

NMD Technology Services






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