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What is the difference between a Megabit and a Megabyte?



Background of blue-green binary 1s and 0s.
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Although they are similar words with similar abbreviations, megabits (Mb) and megabytes (MB) are different units of measure. Here is what they measure and when they are used.

Bits vs Bytes

If you have recently purchased a plan from an ISP, you may have noticed that the company marketed its broadband speeds in terms of mega or gigabit per second. On the other hand, most mobile or internet plans with data capsules measure your maximum usage when it comes to mega or gigabytes.

You might think that these two numbers are the same. But a “piece”

; and a “byte” are distinct units of measure used for different things. Each byte consists of eight bits. Therefore, one megabyte equals eight megabits, eight megabytes equals 64 megabits, and so on.

In addition, they are abbreviated differently. A bit is abbreviated in lower case “b” (Mb or Mbit), while a byte is abbreviated in uppercase “B” (MB). When you denote these in speed, megabits per second are abbreviated to “Mbps”, while megabytes per second are abbreviated as “MB / s.”

RELATED: Why you probably do not get the internet speeds you pay for (and how to tell)

Convert bits to byte

A
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To illustrate the difference better, let’s use a real-world scenario. Suppose you have recently subscribed to a fiber broadband connection that promises maximum internet speeds of 400 Mbps. You are downloading an 800 megabyte video file. Assuming your internet works perfectly and its servers are fast, how long does it take to complete the download?

Since 1 megabyte equals 8 megabits, we divide 400 Mbps by 8 to get a maximum download speed of 50 MB / s. Therefore, it takes 16 seconds to download the file.

Measurement with the bit

Bits are mainly used by ISPs to measure bandwidth. These numbers are called “bit rates”.

Many people wonder why the download time of a file rarely matches the promised bit rate for their connections. This is due to the difference between bandwidth and speed. Your network bandwidth refers to the maximum amount of data it can transmit within a given period of time, such as 1 second.

On the other hand, the speed of your network is the actual data transfer rate from an online server to your device, or vice versa. This can vary greatly between providers, connection types and locations.

Therefore, two households can both have gigabit connections, but since they are located in different cities, their download and upload speeds may vary. Although their “potential” internet speeds may be the same, they are probably very different in reality.

RELATED: Are you going to pay more for a faster internet connection?

Use change

A USB hard drive connected to a laptop.
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Bytes is used for almost everything related to file size and storage. All forms of storage – from solid state devices to cloud services, such as Dropbox – are referred to in terms of switching capacity. The files on your computer are also measured in bytes.

The reason we use byte instead of bits to measure files goes back to the earliest computers. Each bit can have a value of either zero or one. When combined, they create a byte, which was the smallest amount of memory a computer could read and process. Each byte then corresponds to a text character.

Since then, files have become more complex and the individual changes have become an incredibly small unit of measurement. Most of the files on your computer are at least one kilobyte or 1,024 bytes.

RELATED: Tech Term Confusion: “Memory” means RAM, not storage

Mega, Giga, Tera and more

When measuring data in terms of bits or bytes, it is important to know the following common device prefixes:

  • 1,024 kilobytes = 1 megabyte
  • 1,024 megabytes = 1 gigabyte
  • 1,024 gigabytes = 1 terabyte

Most hardware is measured up to terabytes, while most connection speeds are measured up to gigabits.

It is also convenient to know some quick conversions for the numbers used for internet plans. Below are some useful numbers to measure your potential maximum download speed:

  • 25 megabits per second = 3,125 megabytes per second
  • 100 megabits per second = 12.5 megabytes per second
  • 1 gigabit per second = 128 megabytes per second

Remember to always be careful with the bandwidth that ISPs promised. When in doubt, search online to find out what the average internet speeds are in your area.

RELATED: Why you probably do not get the internet speeds you pay for (and how to tell)




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