The basic unit of storage on a computer is called a bit. A bit can only hold one of two values: 0 or 1. Bits are typically assembled into a group of eight to form a byte. A byte is large enough to store a single character.
A kilobyte (KB) is 1,024 bytes, although frequently people just think of it as 1,000 bytes.
Computer storage and memory is often measured in megabytes (MB), gigabytes (GB), or terabytes (TB). One MB is 1,024 KB or 1,024 x 1,024 bytes. One GB is 1,024 MB or 1,024 x 1,024 x 1,024 bytes. One TB is 1,024 GB or 1,024 x 1,024 x 1,024 x 1,024 bytes.
Storage technologies increase rapidly. Soon we will begin measuring storage capacities in petabytes (PB). One PB is 1,024 TB.
The sizes of various files vary greatly, but here are some averages:
- One mp3 song 4 MB
- One DVD movie 4 GB
- One HD movie 6 GB
- One Blu-Ray movie 25 GB
- One jpg 3 MB
- Microsoft office docs < 500 KB
When making storage choices, it is important to have a perspective on how much storage you need. As an example, if you were going to purchase a 32 GB thumb drive to store photos (jpgs) and wanted to know how many photos you could store, your calculation would look like this:
- 32GB X 1024MB/GB = 32,678MB
- 32,678MB/3MB (average size of jpg) = 10,922 photos
These days, computers with solid state drives start at 128 GB; those with regular hard drives start at 500 GB. Memory starts at 4 GB. But really the sweet spot for new computers is either 256GB for a solid state drive or 1 TB for a regular hard drive, and 8 GB memory. For an average user, that configuration should last you 4 to 5 years.
Storage (drives and memory) on desktop computers can be easily expanded, but increasingly with laptop computers storage cannot be expanded. Therefore, if purchasing a new laptop, be especially mindful of expansion possibilities, and if the laptop you desire cannot be expanded, be sure you purchase one with sufficient storage to last you the life of the computer.