A fairly common question that comes up is how big a megabyte is. You will often hear about it when discussing units of data storage in computers. To do so, you will have to understand the smallest unit of data that computers use to represent the files you store.
Going from Bits to Megabytes
The basic unit used by computers to describe amounts of data storage is called a bit, which is a binary digit. In lay man’s terms, bits are basically composed of ones and zeros that computers are able to understand and communicate. Every file you create as data on your computer is represented in terms of bits whether they are documents, spreadsheets, or even pictures.
A group of bits is called a byte, which is actually composed of only eight bits. A computer, basically, will use one byte to represent a letter, number, or symbol. So we can say that each letter you have on your document represents one byte of data that should be stored when you save your work, though there is more than just the letters or numbers you type that a computer saves when you type and save a document.
The next step up in the hierarchy of data units used by your computer is called a kilobyte. This is basically composed of around a thousand bytes. Well, in reality its exactly 1,024 bytes. Files you download or create using office applications will usually represent file sizes in terms of kilobytes. Kilobytes are represented by the letters KB when giving the size of a file.
The next step in the hierarchy of data storage units is a megabyte. To the ordinary user, you can think of it as a group of a million bytes. It is represented by ‘MB’ when describing a file’s size. So the good old 1.44 MB floppy disk is approximately 1.44 million bytes. However, that isn’t its exact capacity.
Though it is indeed easier to denote megabytes as a million bytes, this isn’t really accurate. If you want to get its actual size in bytes you have to get two to the 20th power. You will eventually calculate it to 1,048,576 bytes if you use the decimal notation. There are those who argue that it should always be represented as little over a million bytes since bytes should be calculated by the powers of two.
A megabyte is not only a measure of how many bytes are stored in a virtual or real storage medium. It is also used to measure transmission rates, such as showing how fast your Internet connection is.