You say to-may-toes and I say to-mah-toes… You say kilo and I say kibi… A quick explanation about why it doesn’t matter too much for beginners…

Here is a picture of a computer nerd joke about kilobytes vs. kibibytes, which is completely farcical but points out the complexity by trying to show something even more complex.   While I’d like this article to make it less confusing, the best I think I can do is to say it doesn’t really matter that much unless you are a computer nerd.  But I’ll try to explain it anyways…

The metric system (which is now technically called the SI system) is based upon things going up in tens, hundreds, and thousands. This is because that is how humans in every culture have generally figured out how to count, because we have 10 fingers.   But computers don’t count that way, they count using binary, with any digit being able to just be a zero or one.

And while these two systems are often very different from each other, they come close to each other when it comes to 1,000 and 1,024, where 1,000 is 10 to the 3rd power (10*10*10), and 1,024 is 2 to the 10th power (2*2*2*2*2*2*2*2*2*2).

Because computers now have a lot of data that they can store, often prefixes are used to describe the size of things (kilo, Mega, giga, tera).  For many years it was ambiguous whether these prefixes went up by 1,000 (like humans count) or 1,024 (like computers count).  So after much deliberation, it was decided that when we use the prefixes like humans are used to, we would call things kilo, mega, giga, and tera.  But when we talk about how the computer counts we would call them kibi (kilo binary), mebi (mega binary), gibi (giga binary) and tebi (tera binary).

So what does this mean for you?  Well, while the words are now well-defined, they aren’t well used and things are still ambiguous, and so when you see GB, this could be gigabytes or gibibytes, depending upon the context.  So for example, RAM (temporary memory) is generally measured in gibibytes, but hard disk and flash drive manufacturers will use gigabytes and terabytes to describe their disk sizes, although Windows will show them in gibibytes and tebibytes…

So are you confused?  Probably so.  Here is the truth.  For the most part, 1,000 and 1,024 are pretty darn close to each other for kilo and kibi, and while technically the difference grows greater when you get to tera vs. tebi (because that extra 24 compounds as you get higher), they are still close enough to each other that for a beginner it doesn’t matter a whole bunch.   So, just remember the song…  “You say mega, I say mebi.  You say giga, I say gibi.  Mega, mebi; Giga, gibi…  let’s call the whole thing off!”

One Comment

  1. I want to be thankful to be taught how to basic Technology and I myself have done really well on the programs of most of the projects I have been taught has help to improve on most communication on the topic of Computer Technology with more on the projects information that was either taught by a Sub.or the binging of the teacher who show us the learn look and listen to ur computer more closely on brainstorming yours on my on grade report for a complete progress you or I have been taught already.

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