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Megabits and Megabytes

What the heck are megabits and megabytes? Sounds like something summertime mosquitoes do to you while you’re on holiday! Read on to figure this out!

Bits and Bytes

So what’s a bit? Quite simply a Bit is a the smallest amount of data a system can process or store. It’s the 1 or 0, the YES or NO, the TRUE or FALSE, the ON or OFF in the computer world.

So then what’s a Byte? Now we’re talking! Its simply a group of 8 Bits! A byte represents a piece of information that has 8 TRUE/FALSE, 1 OR 0, ON/OFF combinations. The number of items a byte can represent is 256. or 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2 (8 bits).

16 bits doubles the number of bytes available, 32 bits doubles it again and 64 bits doubles that once more. Therefore a 32 bit number is 4 bytes which can store any single number up to 4,294,967,296 (4GB)! This is why you see memory limits on 32 “bit” operating systems topped out at 4GB.


hard drive stack

Hard drive and memory storage size is most commonly measured in megabytes. However if you prefer you could measure it in megabits also! A 512 GB (Gigabyte) hard drive can store 512 billion bytes which is an awful lot of information. This unit of measurement is represented by the capitalization of the letters. When we are referring to capacity, the number in bytes is what we use on all our cloud services products.

Speeds and Performance

Transmission speed (network, system bus etc.) and performance is usually measured in megabit/s or more specifically bps, or bit/s. For example a 1Gb/s switch port theoretically can process 1 billion bits per second. Or 802.11n WiFi theoretically supports speeds of 300Mbps.

It often makes sense to do a conversion to bytes when speaking about performance. For example converting 1 million Bit/s to Byte/s gives you an apples to apples amount of data being written or read from your hard drive each second.

network performance

Did you know: 1Gbit/s switch port’s maximum bandwidth capacity is 128 MBytes/second? Subtract 20% for data packet overhead and you’ll be pressing the performance of any single gigabit switch port or network interface card at approximately 100 MByte/s. This is why that 1GB file takes 10s to transmit even though you have a 1Gbit/s port!

Data transmission speeds to the cloud are measured in bit/s as well as internet speeds (upload and download). When we refer to our data transmission rates, our speeds are all measured in bit/s


To go from bits to bytes simply divide your number by 8

To go from bytes to bits simply multiply your number by 8

You might see MiB/s (GiB, TiB, KiB etc.) as in the screen shot above. These are for our purposes essentially equal to the usual MB, GB, and so-on values. 1 MiB is 1.024 million bytes in binary where as 1 MB is 1.000 million bytes using our usual decimal notation. The number of bytes difference is less than 1% of the total and while it is a difference it is a technical one.

Bringing this all together

Megabits and Megabytes can be confusing. Just keep in mind that memory and hard drive space is measured in bytes. The most common sizes worth mentioning are kilo (1 thousand), mega (1 million), and giga (1 billion) although we are seeing tera (1 trillion) more commonly now. A byte is a group of 8 bits and a bit is the smallest amount of information that can be processed.

Performance and speeds are measured in bits/s. The most common are kilo (1 thousand), mega (1 million) and giga (1 billion) bits per second. When speaking about performance 1GB/s and 1Gbps are two very different numbers!

Check out more of our How-To’s for additional great tips like this one.

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