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KB, MB, GB, & TB: What’s the Difference?

Kilobyte (KB), megabyte (MB), gigabyte (GB), and terabyte (TB). You’ve probably seen these terms/acronyms before, but what do they even mean? How are they different from one another? Here’s a very brief, easy to understand guide for computer storage newbies:  

First, to understand the difference between KB, MB, GB, and TB, you need to know what a byte is. A byte is essentially one unit of written data, such as the letter “A” written on a digital document. The more data units that reside within a document, program, or file, the more bytes it will have. This is why things like video games or computer programs take a long time to download because they have so many bytes they need to go through and install.  

For the sake of organization, the terms kilobyte, megabyte, gigabyte, and terabyte were brought forth. Rather than saying “this file has about 1000 bytes” we now say “this file has 1 kilobyte”. It’s a much easier and more efficient way of organizing and attributing data. Each term/acronym represents an approximate file size, with KB being regarded as the smallest and TB being regarded as the largest. Here’s the difference between each one:  

Kilobyte (KB): As stated previously, a kilobyte is regarded as the smallest file size. It represents about 1000 bytes of data and takes its name from the Greek word κιλό (kiló), which means ‘thousand’. For reference, emails are usually only about 1-2 kilos, though this can change depending on any images or attachments that are linked to them.   

Megabyte (MB): Derived from the Greek word μέγας (mégas), meaning ‘great’, a megabyte represents a file size that is about 1 million bytes. Single photos can oftentimes end up being a few megabytes in size, especially photos that are high quality. Moreover, depending on the number of images saved, digital photo albums can be dozens or even hundreds of megabytes in size. That’s a lot of data units!  

Gigabyte (GB): Representing approximately 1 billion bytes, the term ‘gigabyte’ is derived from the Greek word γίγας (gígas), meaning ‘giant’. You may be thinking, “when will I ever use a billion bytes?” yet you’d be surprised how many bytes can take up even a simple computer program before you’ve even opened it for the first time. It takes a lot of data to create an application, let alone run it efficiently! Pro Tip: if you plan on using a USB drive to backup large batches of data, don’t underestimate the needed storage capacity within your USB (a 4GB USB drive is most likely not going to cut it!).  

Terabyte (TB): As our world becomes more technologically centered, the term ‘terabyte’ is becoming more commonly known. Derived from the word Greek word τέρας (teras), meaning ‘monster’, a terabyte represents a staggering 1 trillion bytes. People who live most of their lives on their computers (work, recreation, etc) are likely to have computer hard drives with the capacity to store one or more terabytes, while people who only use their computers every-now-and-then will most likely never need a computer with such a large storage capacity.  

When purchasing a USB drive, a new hard drive, or even a new computer, it’s important to look at the storage capacity of the device in question. Devices with more space will likely be more expensive, but for some, it may be a necessary splurge in order to keep and add on to their saved data. No matter your situation, we hope this guide has helped you understand a bit more about your computer’s storage capabilities and perhaps this information may serve you again during your next technological upgrade!

53 thoughts on “KB, MB, GB, & TB: What’s the Difference?”

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