# Bits and Bytes: A Basic Introduction

6. October 2009 21:47

Bits and bytes are measurements of data, but they differ in their size and what they measure. Understanding what these terms are will help you understand how your computer stores information and how your Internet connection speed effects you. One way to tell them apart is the case in which they are written. When abbreviating bits and bytes, a “b” (small case) is a bit, and “B” (upper case) is a byte, therefore, “kb” is kilobit and “KB” is kilobyte (note: the case of the letters before the b are insignificant).

A bit (b) is the smallest measurement of data that can be stored on computers or transferred by Internet services. Bits represent information with a binary coding system made up of only 1's and 0's (bi means two, i.e., two numbers). When bits are arranged and stored in sequences of 1's and 0's, they are translated by computer programming into words, pictures, and other data.

Usually, when you hear the term “bits”, they are measuring transfer rate, or how much information can be transferred in a certain amount of time. Internet connection speeds are measured this way, for example, “bps” is bits per second, the amount of bits that can be downloaded or transferred in a second. Since bits are so small, most connection speeds are measured in thousands of bits per second.

When measuring transfer rate for Internet connections, 1 kilobit (kb) = 1000 bits, 1 megabit (mb) = 1000 kilobits. Say you connect with dial-up at 34.4 kbps. That means 34.4 kilobits or 34400 bits can be downloaded per second to your computer. Say you connect with DSL at 6 “megs” aka mbps. You can download 6 megabits, or 6000 kilobits, or 6,000,000 bits per second.

A byte (B) is 8 bits strung together. Remember, bits store information based on a binary system and are arranged in sequences. These sequences are in sets of 8 and called bytes. It takes many bytes sequenced together to create documents, images, programs, and commands for your computer. When measuring sizes of files, programs, and capacities of drives, you use bytes. Like bits, byte are often noted in larger quantities, like kilobytes, megabytes (megs), and gigabytes (gigs).

Many people assume a kilobyte is 1000 bytes, etc., but this is not true. When describing capacity (size or storage size of computer elements), bytes are measured by the same binary system that code bits. Therefore, “kilo” = 1,024 (or, 2^10) instead of 1000. A kilobyte (KB) is 1,024 bytes, and a megabyte (MB) is 1,024 kilobytes. A gigabyte (GB) is 1,024 megabytes.

A Microsoft Word document is usually about 30 KB in size. An picture, like clip art is typically about 100 KB, and photos are often much larger. A CD typically has a 700 MB (or 716,800 KB) storage capacity. You can buy computers with a hard drive (main storage unit) capacity of 500 gig (or 524,288,000 KB).

Don't forget, 1 byte is 8 bits. An Internet connection (like transfer rates or download speeds) is measured in bits, and 1 kilobit is 1,000 bits. Storage capacity (like disk space and file sizes), it is measured in bytes, and 1 kilobyte is 1,024 bytes.

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Written by Hannah Miller, Online Marketing Representative and Customer Service, Copper.net.

Copper.net is a nationwide Internet services provider that is all-American owned and operated. Call today, 1-800-336-3318 or sign up online at www.copper.net! Check out my blog for more articles!

24. August 2009 21:42

There are several common misconceptions about dial-up connection speeds. For example, even if you are using a 56K modem, you are unfortunately not really connecting at 56 kbps. Because of physical limitations and FCC regulations, the highest connection speed possible on dial-up is 51-53 kbps. Most people connect at about 24-48 kbps (kilobits per second).

When you first get connected on dial-up, you should get a pop-up in the lower right corner of the screen telling you your connection speed, e.g., “You are now connected at 32.4 kbps.”

If you don't see a pop-up, you can also check your connection speed while you are connected. From your control panel, open your Network Connections window and double-click the icon for your dial-up connection. Your connection statistics should show in that window and the speed will be listed first.

Once you determine your speed, you can determine download times. However, you must first understand units of measurement and conversion rates. When measuring transfer rate (ie., how many bits can be downloaded per second) of Internet connections, the size increments are 1000. Therefore, a kilobit is 1,000 bits, and an megabit is 1,000 kilobits, etc.

Storage capacity on hard drives and cell phones, etc., and sizes of files or software programs, etc., are measured in bytes. This is not to be confused with bits. A byte is 8 bits strung together. Bytes are notated with a capital B, and bits with a small b. Therefore, a “kb” is a kilobit and a “KB” is a kilobyte. Bytes are always in size increments of 1,024 since they use the binary counting system used to store information on computers. Therefore, a kilobyte is 1,024 bytes, and a megabyte is 1,024 kilobytes, etc.

Since all Internet downloads are measured in bytes (webpages, files, pictures, and programs), you have to do a little math to understand how quickly dial-up (measured in bits per second) can download it. Remember, a byte is 8 bits, and one KB is 8 kb! First, multiply the file size in kilobytes by 8 to convert the file to kilobits. Then, divide it by the number of kilobits per second your connection will transfer.

For example, if you want to know how quickly a 500 kilobyte (KB) file (perhaps a picture that was emailed to you) will download on a 40 kbps connection, first convert the file to size in bits. 500 kilobytes (KB) = 4,000 kilobits (kb). Then divide the bits by 40 kbps. 4,000 kilobits / 40 bits per second = 100 seconds, or almost two minutes.

Larger downloads are often measured in MB's, which means you have to convert them to KB's before you can convert them to kb's. 1 MB = 1,024 KB = 8192 kb. 1 MB on a 40 kbps connection would download in 204.8 seconds, or just over three minutes.

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Written by Hannah Miller, Online Marketing Representative and Customer Service, Copper.net.

Copper.net is a nationwide Internet services provider that is all-American owned and operated. Call today, 1-800-336-3318 or sign up online at www.copper.net! Check out my blog for more articles!