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Units of Computer Memory Measurement (Definition & Comparison)

units of computer memory measurement

The memory of an electronic device is the holding place for the instructions and data a device needs to reach quickly. It’s where information is stored for immediate use. Like any other measurement, a computer’s memory can also be measured and compared. The basic unit of computer memory is a byte.

Let’s understand the various units of computer memory measurement and the relation between them.

What is Memory in Computers?

The memory of a Computer is any physical device that is capable of storing information whether it is large or small and stores it temporarily or permanently. For example, Random Access Memory (RAM), is a type of volatile memory that stores information for a short interval of time, on an integrated circuit used by the operating system. 

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Memory can be either volatile or non-volatile. Volatile memory is a type of memory that loses its contents when the computer or hardware device is switched off. RAM is an example of a volatile memory i.e. why if your computer gets rebooted while working on a program, you lose all the unsaved data. Non-volatile memory is a memory that keeps its contents saved even in the case of power loss. EPROM(Erasable Programmable ROM) is an example of non-volatile memory. 

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Units of Computer Memory Measurement

A computer processor is made up of multiple decisive circuits, each one of which may be either OFF or ON. These two states in terms of memory are represented by a 0 or 1. In order to count higher than 1, such bits (BInary digiTS) are suspended together. A group of eight bits is known as a byte. 1 byte can represent numbers between zero (00000000) and 255 (11111111), or $2^8 = 256$ distinct positions. Of course, these bytes may also be combined to represent larger numbers. The computer represents all characters and numbers internally in the same fashion. 

In practice, memory is measured in KiloBytes (KB) or MegaBytes (MB). A kilobyte is not exactly, as one might expect, of 1000 bytes. Rather, the correct amount is $2^{10}$ i.e. 1024 bytes. Similarly, a megabyte is not $1000^2$ i.e. 1, 000, 000 bytes, but instead $1024^{2}$ i.e. 1, 048, 576 bytes. This is a remarkable difference. By the time we reach to a gigabyte (i.e. $1024^{3}$ bytes), the difference between the base two and base ten amounts is almost 71 MegaByte. 

Both computer memory and disk space are measured in these units. But it’s important not to confuse these two. “12800 KB RAM” refers to the amount of main memory the computer provides to its CPU whereas “128 MB disk” symbolizes the amount of space that is available for the storage of files, data, and other types of permanent information.

Types of Units of Computer Memory

The various types of units of computer memory used are

  • Byte
  • Kilo Byte
  • Mega Byte
  • Giga Byte
  • Tera Byte
  • Peta Byte
  • Exa Byte
  • Zetta Byte
  • Yotta Byte

1. Byte

In computer systems, a unit of data that is eight binary digits long is known as a byte. A byte is a unit that computers use to represent a character such as a letter, number, or a typographic symbol (for example, “h”, “7”, or “$”). A byte can also grasp a string of bits that need to be used in some larger units of application processes (e.g., the stream of bits that composes a visual image for a program that represents images or the string of bits that composes the machine code of a computer program). 

A byte is abbreviated with a big “B” whereas a bit is abbreviated with a small “b”. Computer storage is generally measured in multiples of the byte. For example, a 640 MB hard drive holds a nominal 640 million bytes – or megabytes – of data. Byte multiples are made up of exponents of 2 and are generally expressed as a “rounded-off” decimal number. For example, two megabytes or 2 million bytes are actually 2, 097, 152 (decimal) bytes.

2. KiloByte

The kilobyte is the smallest unit of memory measurement but greater than a byte. A kilobyte is $10^3$ or 1, 000 bytes abbreviated as ‘K’ or ‘KB’. It antecedes the MegaByte, which contains 1, 000, 000 bytes. One kilobyte is technically 1, 000 bytes, therefore, kilobytes are often used synonymously with kibibytes, which contain exactly 1, 024 bytes ($2^{10}$). 

Kilobytes are mostly used to measure the size of small files. For example, a simple text document may contain 10 KB of data and therefore it would have a file size of 10 kilobytes. Graphics of small websites are often between 5 KB and 100 KB in size. Individual files typically take up a minimum of four kilobytes of disk space.

3. MegaByte

One megabyte is equal to 1, 000 KBs and antecedes the gigabyte (GB) unit of memory measurement. A megabyte is $10^6$ or 1, 000, 000 bytes and is abbreviated as “MB”. 1 MB is technically 1, 000, 000 bytes, therefore, megabytes are often used synonymously with mebibytes, which contain exactly 1, 048, 576 bytes ($2^{20}$). 

Megabytes are mostly used to measure the size of large files. For example, a high-resolution JPEG image might range in size from 1-5 megabytes. A 3-minute song saved in a compressed version may be roughly 3MB in size, and the uncompressed version may take up to 30 MB of disk space. Compact Disk’s capacity is measured in megabytes (approx 700 to 800 MB), whereas the capacity of most other forms of media drives, such as hard drives and flash drives, is generally measured in gigabytes or terabytes.

4. GigaByte

One gigabyte is equal to 1, 000 MBs and precedes the terabyte(TB) unit of memory measurement. A gigabyte is $10^9$ or 1, 000, 000, 000 bytes and is abbreviated as “GB”. 1 GB is technically 1, 000, 000, 000 bytes, therefore, gigabytes are used synonymously with gibibytes, which contain exactly 1, 073, 741, 824 bytes ($2^{30}$). 

Gigabytes, are sometimes also abbreviated as “gigs, ” and are often used to measure a storage device’s capacity. e.g., a standard DVD drive can hold 4.7 GBs of data. Storage devices that hold 1, 000 GB of data or more are measured in terabytes.

5. TeraByte

One terabyte is equal to 1, 000 GBs and precedes the petabyte(PB) unit of memory measurement. A terabyte is $10^{12}$ or 1, 000, 000, 000, 000 bytes and is abbreviated as “TB”. 1 TB is technically 1 trillion bytes, therefore, terabytes and tebibytes are used synonymously, which contains exactly 1, 099, 511, 627, 776 bytes (1, 024 GB) ($2^{40}$). 

Mostly the storage capacity of large storage devices is measured in TeraBytes. Around 2007, consumer hard drives reached a capacity of 1 TeraByte. Now, HDDs are measured in Terabytes e.g., a typical internal HDD may hold 2 Terabytes of data whereas some servers and high-end workstations that contain multiple hard drives may even have a total storage capacity of over 10 Terabytes.

6. Peta Byte

One petabyte is equal to 1, 000 TBs and precedes the exabyte unit of memory measurement. A petabyte is $10^{15}$ or 1, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 bytes and is abbreviated as “PB”. A petabyte is lesser in size than a pebibyte, which contains exactly 1, 125, 899, 906, 842, 624 ($2^{50}$) bytes. 

Most storage devices can hold a maximum of a few TBs, therefore, petabytes are rarely used to measure the memory capacity of a single device. Instead, PetaBytes are used to measure the total data stored in large networks or server farms. For example, Internet Giants like Google and Facebook store more than 100 PBs of data on their data servers.

Types of Images

7. Exa Byte

One exabyte is equal to 1, 000 PBs and precedes the zettabyte unit of memory measurement. An exabyte is $10^{18}$ or 1, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 bytes and is abbreviated as “EB”. Exabytes are lesser than exbibytes, which contain exactly 1, 152, 921, 504, 606, 846, 976 (260) bytes. 

The exabyte unit of memory measurement is so large, that it is not used to measure the capacity of storage devices. Even the data storage capacity of the biggest cloud storage centers is measured in PetaBytes, which is a fraction of 1 EB. Instead, exabytes measure the amount of data over multiple data storage networks or the amount of data that is being transferred over the Internet for a certain amount of time. e.g., several hundred exabytes of data are transferred over the Internet every year.

8. Zetta Byte

One zettabyte is equal to 1, 000 exabytes or $10^{21}$ or 1, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 bytes. A zettabyte is a little bit smaller than a zebibyte that contains 1, 180, 591, 620, 717, 411, 303, 424 ($2^{70}$) bytes, and is abbreviated as “ZB”. One zettabyte contains one billion TBs or one sextillion bytes which means it will take one billion one-terabyte hard drives to store one zettabyte of data. Generally, Zettabyte is used to measure large amounts of data and all the data in the world is just a few zettabytes. 

9. Yotta Byte

One yottabyte is equal to 1, 000 zettabytes. It is the largest SI unit of memory measurement. A yottabyte is $10^{24}$ ZettaBytes or 1, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 bytes and is abbreviated as “YB”. It is a little bit smaller than yobibyte, which contains exactly 1, 208, 925, 819, 614, 629, 174, 706, 176 bytes ($2^{80}$) bytes. 

1 yottabyte contains one septillion bytes which is exactly the same as one trillion TBs. It is a very large number that humans can evaluate. There is no practical use for such a large measurement unit because all the data in the world is made of just a few zettabytes.

Some Misconceptions About Computer Memory

The size of a disk with one KB is 1024 Bytes although it signifies 1, 000 Bytes of data. It’s just the old standard everyone remembers.

The download speed Kbps is 1, 000 Bits per second, not 1, 024 Bits per second.

Comparison of Various Memory Sizes

Following is the comparison of various memory sizes.

NameEqual ToSize(In Bytes)
Bit1 Bit$\frac{1}{8}$
Nibble4 Bits$\frac{1}{2}$
Byte8 Bits1
Kilobyte1024 Bytes1024
Megabyte1, 024 Kilobytes1, 048, 576
Gigabyte1, 024 Megabytes1, 073, 741, 824
Terrabyte1, 024 Gigabytes1, 099, 511, 627, 776
Petabyte1, 024 Terabytes1, 125, 899, 906, 842, 624
Exabyte1, 024 Petabytes1, 152, 921, 504, 606, 846, 976
Zettabyte1, 024 Exabytes1, 180, 591, 620, 717, 411, 303, 424
Yottabyte1, 024 Zettabytes1, 208, 925, 819, 614, 629, 174, 706, 176

Practice Problems

  1. What is meant by memory in computer science?
  2. What is a bit in computers?
  3. Why 1 kilobyte is equal to 1024 bytes and not 1000 bytes?
  4. What is a nibble in computer memory?

FAQs

What are the units of memory in computers?

The various units of memory in computers are Byte, Kilo Byte, Mega Byte, Giga Byte, Tera Byte, Peta Byte, Exa Byte, Zetta Byte, and Yotta Byte.

What is computer memory its units and types?

Memory is also used by a computer’s operating system, hardware, and software. There are technically two types of computer memory: primary and secondary. The term memory is used as a synonym for primary memory or as an abbreviation for a specific type of primary memory called random access memory (RAM).

What’s the largest unit of memory?

Generally, Zettabyte is used to measure large amounts of data and all the data in the world is just a few zettabytes. One yottabyte is equal to 1, 000 zettabytes. It is the largest SI unit of memory measurement.

What is the smallest unit of memory?

A byte is the smallest unit of memory used in today’s computing. Bytes consist of eight bits, and a byte is used to encode a single number, letter, or symbol.

Conclusion

Computer memory is just like the human brain. It is used to store data/information and instructions. The computer memory is measured in bytes where 1 byte is equal to 8 bits. Depending on the use and situation various units of computer memory measurement are used in practice.

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