It seems like the speed at which technology changes gets faster every year, and the terms used to describe new technology becomes more complicated with time. Gigabit and gigabyte are commonly used in the context of internet speed, hard drive capacity, and file size. To make matters worse, some people improperly use these terms interchangeably. So what does it all mean? Gigabit vs gigabyte. What’s the difference?
A gigabit equals 1 billion bits and is commonly used to measure internet speeds in gigabits per second. A gigabyte equals 8 billion bits and is commonly used to describe file size, data caps, and hard drive storage capacity.
Don’t worry, I’ll walk you though the difference between a gigabit and a gigabyte using plain English. Understanding what these terms mean makes you a more informed consumer, and you’ll have the ability to make smarter purchasing choices regarding internet packages, computers, tablets, smart phones, data plans, and hard drives.
The Basics of Binary Code
Binary code is a series of 1s and 0s
Before we get into the gigabit vs. gigabyte explanation, we have to go back to the absolute basics of computing. Computers read binary code, and binary code consists only of 1s and 0s. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it. Humans can input data into a computer using keyboards, mice, microphones, cameras, and joysticks. Meanwhile, computers can output information using monitors, speakers, headphones, projectors, and printers.
However, the computer interprets everything in binary code. Every input you’ve ever given a computer, and every output you’ve ever received was at one point just a string of 1s and 0s inside the computer processor. Computers essentially interpret everything as binary code, and the main benefit of faster computer processors is the ability to process 1s and 0s faster.
This brings us to main point of this section of the article: a bit is a single 1 or 0 in a line of binary code, and a byte equals 8 bits.
|Is comprised of|
|Bit||A single 1 or 0 of binary code|
A byte equals 8 bits
Let’s use an example. A typical keyboard used for the English language contains all the letters of the alphabet, the numbers 1-9, some special characters, and some other buttons used for various computer functions. So how does a computer interpret each character?
Each character equals 8 bits or 1 byte. That’s right. Your computer interprets every letter, number, and special character as a series of eight 1s and 0s.
Here’s a quick chart of a few characters used in English and their binary equivalents:
|English Character||Binary equivalent|
To recap, a bit equals a single 1 or 0, and a byte equals eight bits. Each character listed above equals one byte.
Of course, everything your computer does can be broken down into a string of 1s and 0s. Sound, video, games, and websites are at one point just a string of two numbers inside a computer. How this all works is beyond the scope of this article; I just want you to understand that everything on a computer breaks down into binary code.
What is a Gigabit?
Giga is the metric prefix for billion, and a gigabit is one billion bits. That’s one billion 1s and 0s! The abbreviation for gigabit is Gb, and ISPs commonly measure internet speed in gigabits per second (Gbps).
Your local internet service provider probably advertises gigabit internet speeds. That refers the internet connection’s ability to send one gigabit of data per second to your home or business. A one Gbps internet connection can simultaneously support several devices streaming content from the internet.
Internet service providers almost always advertise speeds in terms of gigabits per second or megabits per second. Because mega is the metric prefix for million, there are a million bits in a megabit.
What is a Gigabyte?
Giga is the metric prefix for billion, and a gigabyte is one billion bytes. That’s 8 billion 1s and 0s! Remember: there are 8 bits in a byte, and a gigabyte will always be 8 times the size of a gigabit. The abbreviation for gigabyte is GB.
Cell phone carriers, hard drive manufacturers, and websites advertising downloads commonly measure capacity, data caps, and file size in gigabytes.
If you’re in a retail store selling computers, you’ll notice hard drives advertised in sizes measured in gigabytes. So if you see a hard drive advertised with a capacity of 750 GB, that means the manufacturer is measuring a storage capacity of 750 gigabytes or 750 billion bytes – that’s 6 trillion bits! You can store a ton of information with 750 GB!
Internet Service Providers sometimes impose monthly data caps, and a data cap represents the maximum amount of data you can download and upload per month (measured in gigabytes). This is because a gigabyte is a measurement of size.
What’s the difference between a Gigabit and a Gigabyte?
A gigabit equals one billion bits and is commonly used to measure internet speeds in gigabits per second. A gigabyte equals 8 billion bits and is commonly used to describe file size and hard drive storage capacity.
Hopefully this makes sense. If not, check out this table that can help you visualize the difference between a gigabit and a gigabyte:
|Number of bits||Commonly used to measure|
|Gigabit (Gb)||1 billion||Internet speed in gigabits per second (in Gbps)|
|Gigabyte (GB)||8 billion||File size, data caps, and storage space|
How do Gigabits and Gigabytes work together?
We now know that ISPs use gigabits to measure internet speeds in gigabits per second (Gbps) and hard drive manufactures use gigabytes (GB) to measure file size . Obviously, speed and size must work together to make everything work. So what’s a good example of gigabits and gigabytes working together?
Let’s say you move to a new town, and the local internet service provider offers a fancy new plan called Big Gig Internet. As you peruse the ISPs website, you start to read the fine print, and you begin to understand it a little better.
The Big Gig Internet plan offers users speed of up 1 gigabit per second (Gbps). Unfortunately, the ISP also imposes a data cap of 6,000 gigabytes (GB) per month.
So let’s do some quick math. A file you want to download is 1 GB. Assuming there are no slow-downs, how long will it take to download the file?
The answer is 8 seconds. You can download at 1 gigabit per second (and a gigabit is 1 billion bits), and the file size is 1 gigabyte (8 billion bits). Therefore, it’ll take 8 seconds to download the file.
How many times can you download that file before you reach your data cap?
You can download the file 6,000 times (assuming there’s no other internet traffic – which isn’t realistic) before paying an overage fee. I don’t know why you’d want to do that. . . but you could.
That’s a quick example of how the speed measurement of 1 gigabit per second works with the file size of 1 gigabyte.
What about megabits and megabytes?
The megabit and megabyte comparison works on the exact same principal as gigabits and gigabytes. The only real difference between the terms is the size of the files and speeds. Mega is the metric prefix for million. Therefore, a megabit is one million bits and a megabyte is eight million bits. Megabits per second is a measurement of speed (Mbps), and megabytes (MB) are commonly used to measure file size.
If you’d like more information on megabits and megabytes, I wrote an article about them and you can check it out here.
Gigabit vs gigabyte. The difference isn’t obvious at first, but understanding the difference between gigabits and gigabytes can help you make better decisions with your technology purchases. This knowledge can broaden your understanding of the digital world around you.
I hope you found some value in this article. Take care, and thanks for visiting!