Friday, September 7, 2007

#13 Just some numbers

by Jeff Smith

Todays harddrives just keep getting bigger and bigger. Amazingly, there are actually terabyte drives out on the market these days.
To give you an relative idea of what a terabyte is, a terabyte equals out to about 217 recordable dvd's worth of data, or 1498 recordable CD's, or 728,177 floppy disks. If you consider the average size of an MP3 file to be around 4 megabytes, then a terabyte hard drive will hold 262,144 songs.
More specifically, a terabyte(TB) is about a thousand gigabytes. And a gigabyte (GB) is made up of approximately 1000 megabytes(MB), which is comprised of about 1000 kilobytes(KB), which is about a 1000 bytes(B), which can be broken down to exactly 8 bits(b). The reason I keep saying approximately and about and other vague phrases is that its not exactly a thousand. Its 1024. The reason this is so has to do with binary math and is more than i can really go into in depth in such a short column.
A couple things to note about this is how companies use these different numbers to misrepresent their products and services. If you've ever used a dial-up internet connection, you probably noticed that on a 56k connection, you never actually see your download speed anywhere near 56. The reason for this is that connection speeds are advertised in bits. 56k means fifty-six kilobits-per-second, while on the other hand, Windows measures your internet speeds in kilobytes. 56 kilobits converted into kilobytes (divide by 8) gives you 7 kilobytes per second, which is the fastest you're ever likely to see a dialup connection go.
Common DSL service is offered with 768 kilobit-per-second download and 256 kilobits-per-second upload speeds. Which equals out to 96KB down and 32KB up showing up on your PC.
They sell internet service in bit speeds because it just looks better on paper. Its kind of like saying, I don't have one hundred dollars, I have ten thousand pennies. I think this marketing scheme was created by the same team that came up with ten hot-dogs versus eight buns.
Its also why your brand new 60GB hard drive only shows about 55GB once it is installed. For the purposes of advertisement, harddrive manufacturers do their math in even 1000s, whereas Windows does its math with 1024.
Right now your average store-bought computer comes with 40 to 80GB of space on its hard-drive. Probably more if it was geared toward video editing. This is expected to raise quite a bit in the future, but don't worry, an up to date version of XP can handle drives up to 1.44 petabytes. A petabyte is 1024 terabytes.
To run Windows XP you need at least 128 megabytes of RAM. By comparison, man went to the moon with the help of a computer that only had 32 kilobytes of RAM. So I guess the moral story to be learned there is that its not so much about the power of your machine, as what you do with it.
I realize that all of these numbers may be giving some of you a headache, and for that i apologize. I only hoped to give you a better understanding of the math involved in your computer and how it is used and misused by various companies and organizations.
Hopefully, armed with this information, you will be more informed next time you order internet service or make a hard-drive purchase.
See you next week,


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