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What is the Difference Between a Bit and a Byte?

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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2014
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A bit, short for binary digit, is the smallest unit of measurement used for information storage in computers. A bit is represented by a 1 or a 0 with a value of true or false, sometimes expressed as on or off. Eight bits form a single byte of information, also known as an octet. The difference between a bit and a byte is size, or the amount of information stored.

For example, it takes 8 bits (1 byte) to store a single character. The capital letter “A” is expressed digitally as 01000001. A small case “a” is represented in binary code as 01100001. Notice the third bit is different in each octet. By rearranging the bits within the octet, a byte is capable of producing 256 unique combinations to form letters, numbers, special characters and symbols.

It can get confusing keeping units of storage straight, but it can help for people to remember that the smaller word is the smaller unit of storage. This also helps people to remember the difference between greater units, such as the kilobit and kilobyte.

A kilobit is 1,000 bits, though in the binary system, it is designated as 1024 bits due to the amount of space required to store a kilobit using common operating systems and storage schemes. For simplicity, however, most people think of kilo as referring to 1,000 to more easily remember what a kilobit is. A kilobyte then, would be 1,000 bytes.

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Knowing the difference between a bit and a byte helps to explain megabits, megabytes, gigabits and gigabytes. For example, 1,000 kilobits is 1 megabit, and 1,000 kilobytes is 1 megabyte. Since a bit is eight times smaller than a byte, 1 megabit is eight times smaller than 1 megabyte. Following this pattern, 1,000 megabits is 1 gigabit, and 1,000 megabytes 1 gigabyte.

Internet connection speeds are expressed in terms of data transfer rates in both directions (uploading and downloading), as bits or bytes per second. Abbreviations are, unfortunately, not standardized, making it easy for customers or potential clients to confuse a bit and a byte when trying to determine how fast something is. For example, a speed of “750 kbps” might be misinterpreted by a customer as meaning 750 kilobytes per second, or 8x faster than what the provider means.

A rule of thumb that is generally reliable is that small case abbreviations typically refer to bits, while a capital letter typically refers to bytes. Therefore, kilobits per second would be “kbps” and kilobytes would be “KBps,” or “kBps.” The same holds for megabits per second (mbps) and megabytes per second (MBps). Bits might also be expressed as “Kbit,” “Mbit,” or “Gbit.”

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anon338391
Post 7

I have a question: When I copy something from one partition to another, what I see there are MBps. Why is it not Mbps? Bits are used for data transmission and bytes for data storage, right?

anon288869
Post 6

@KeyLimePie: There might be a misunderstanding here. When retailers promise a speed, it's usually the highest theoretical speed you can get and includes download and upload at the same time. So when you play, you are downloading and uploading at the same time, which at total is 1.5 Mb/s.

anon136990
Post 5

@snoopy123: "laptop has enough memory" - what you and others who say this actually mean is that the laptop (or desktop) needs enough disk space.

in pc terms, memory is the temporary area in which an operating system will store information and which 'disappears' when the pc is switched off. With windows, this memory can be in the cpu, motherboard or on a disk drive. the use of the hard drive would cause the use of a 'swap file' or 'page file' (also known as 'virtual memory'.

KeyLimePie
Post 4

So that’s why my internet is so slow. I just signed up with a provider who promised me lightening speed up to 1.5Mbps. I insisted that wasn’t fast enough for the live streaming and online gaming my family does, but he assured me it would be. I did a speed check and am coming in at 650kbps; there is obviously something wrong here.

ArizonaSun
Post 3

Snoopy123-Thank you for the suggestion. I did get an error on my personal computer that I met my maximum memory by almost doubling the size of my entire library. I tried to create a zipped folder like you said, but it still says there isn’t enough memory. I even tried moving the file to the flash drive and create one there, but I’m at 29 gigs and its reading full as well. I’m going to research further.

Snoopy123
Post 2

ArizonaSun- Have you tried creating a zip file and then copying it to the drive? That should compress the memory and allow you to put more files onto the drive. Then when you plug in the drive, drag the folder to your desktop and unzip to extract the files.

Just remember to make sure your laptop has enough memory to hold all of the extracted information or else you’ll get an error. I’m not sure if iTunes can convert the music back to that format. Isn’t it called AAC or something?

ArizonaSun
Post 1

I am trying to copy my iTunes library from my personal computer to my laptop. I have to convert the format for all songs to mP3s, which increases the amount of memory taken up on the hard drive. I have a 32 GB flash drive that will only hold about one-third of the music. Is there any way to convert the format to take up fewer gigs?

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