Bit vs. Byte

When distinguishing bit vs. byte, it’s important to understand that the terms refer to vastly different sizes. Below, we’ve outlined the main differences between these two units, and how they can be used for a variety of computation purposes. 

What is a bit?

To put it simply, a bit is the smallest measurable unit that can be stored on a computer. Bits are represented in binary form, which means they can either be a zero or one. When we see vast rows of 0s and 1s on a screen like The Matrix, we’re really looking at a series of bits arranged into more complex calculations. With enough bits, you can do anything on a computer. To create a bit, today’s computers distinguish “0” or “1” using lower and higher voltages that travel through the circuits.  

What about bytes?

When bits are arranged in a bundle, it allows the computer to perform multiple calculations at once using multiple bits. A bundle of eight bits is called a byte. One byte can be used to express any letter in the alphabet, via the same binary 0/1 format. For example, the letter “C” in binary is 01000011. You can combine strings of bytes to spell out entire words. In fact, when you spell out a letter on your phone or computer, that information is stored as one byte.
 
With one byte, you can make 256 unique patterns, so the measurement can also be used to store a number between 0 and 255. Bytes are also the most common measurement for computer storage, so when we describe the size of a document or movie file, we use megabytes or gigabytes.  

Bit vs. byte on the Internet

On the other hand, when it comes to Internet connection speeds, service providers do their best to make bits and bytes confusing for consumers. For example, a seasonal advertisement for high-speed internet may boast download speeds of 25 Mb per second. However, “Mb” is an abbreviation for megabits, not megabytes. This means your maximum download speed will actually be about 3.1 megabytes per second, or one-eighth the advertised speed in bits.
 
Before signing up for a new broadband service, make sure to look at the fine print! Megabits are “Mb”, and megabytes are “MB”. The lower-case and upper-case distinction also holds true for Kb/KB (kilobit/kilobyte) and Gb/GB (gigabit/gigabyte).
 

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