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Bits and Bytes Explained: What’s the Difference?

Bits and Bytes Explained: What’s the Difference?

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The terms bits and bytes are sometimes used interchangeably. Both represent units of data, so, understandably, there’s some confusion surrounding their meanings.

To put it simply, the main difference between a byte and a bit is that the former is often used to measure the size of data. The latter usually refers to broadband speed.

An easy way to remember which is which is that bytes are eight times bigger than bits, and a bit is the smallest unit of measurement for data we have.

Bits can either represent a 1 or 0 in binary digits. Computers send and receive data in the form of these two numbers – the larger the file size, the more bits it has.

Due to bytes representing a larger number of bits and modern computers preferring to process data in larger batches, bytes have become the standard unit of data measurement.

Essentially, computers prefer to process bits in groups of 8. We call these groups bytes.

But, why do we use bits to measure broadband speed? Because data sent over a network is sent one bit at a time and broadband speed is measured by how many bits can be sent in one second.

Another great way to remember the difference is by how they are written down. A byte is represented by a capital B, which means a kilobyte would be abbreviated to KB. A bit uses the lowercase b, meaning a kilobit becomes Kb.

Speaking of kilobytes, below we go into more detail about what they represent.

How Many Bytes Are in a Kilobyte?

We know that there are 8 bits in a byte, but how many bytes are in a kilobyte?

This is where it gets a bit complicated. Sometimes, a kilobyte represents 1,000 bytes and other times it represents 1,024 bytes. The reason for this is that the international system of units recognises the decimal system and defines Kilo as 1,000. So, some hard drives, USB sticks, and computer networks use this base-10 measurement method.

However, operating systems and random access memory still use the base-2 method, which applies the term kilobyte simply because 1,024 is close to 1,000.

This extends to megabytes and gigabytes. This is why you may have purchased a hard drive that advertised itself as 500GB, but when you access it, it has far less space available. It’s likely your computer doesn’t recognise base 10, which explains the difference in available storage.

Luckily, understanding what this means for your broadband speed doesn’t rely on whether or not the byte is using base 2 or base-10 measurements. This is where the more common data measurement, megabytes, comes into play.

How Many Bytes Are in a Megabyte?

A megabyte either refers to 1,024 kilobytes, or 1,000 kilobytes, for the reasons outlined above. This means there are either 1,000,000 or 1,048,576 bytes in a megabyte due to the below calculations.

1,000 x 1,000 for decimal systems
1,024 x 1,024 for binary

Megabytes are the measurement you will see most often when you purchase broadband. Since broadband speed is increasing every year, gigabytes are becoming more common, especially with the release of gigabit broadband.

Understanding megabytes and megabits can help you when purchasing broadband. You will be better informed about what your broadband speed can handle.

For example, we know there are 8 bits in a byte. This means a broadband speed of 50Mbps will be able to download 50MB of data in 8 seconds because a megabyte is 8 times larger than a megabit.

It also helps you understand why a 50Mb speed boost would improve your broadband speed considerably. You can find out more about your current broadband speed with our speed checker.

Now that you have a better grasp of bits and bytes, you’re in a much better position to purchase your broadband. You’re also well equipped to compare the top broadband providers and discover the benefits of specific price plans.

If you currently have a broadband deal with a data limit each month, you will also be able to better monitor data usage to ensure you don’t go over your limit.

At Hyperoptic, we strive to give you the most up-to-date information about everything broadband related so you can make informed decisions. Switch over to us today and gain access to one of the fastest broadband providers in the UK.

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