33 Votes

Why are USB sticks and hard drives displayed smaller than specified on the package?

Question by Phantasia | 2012-07-07 at 10:08

I don't know what it is! Maybe I'm doing something wrong or my computer is on the bonkers.

Both for my external hard drive as well as for all of my memory sticks, the available memory is (sometimes significantly) lower than it is indicated on the package.

Why is that? How can I solve the problem? Or is it because the manufacturers have cheated a little bit?

1Best Answer3 Votes

Neither you nor your computer, your memory card or your external hard drive is a bit out of order. Everything of those things has its correctness.

The problem lies in the use of different number systems on the package and in your computer system.

First, there is the decimal system, based on the factor of 10. Accordingly, in this system, 1000 bytes are 1 kilobyte (KB), 1000 KB are 1 megabyte (MB) and 1000 MB are 1 gigabyte. This system is mostly used on the packages.

Another system uses the memory system as its basis, which is based on a derivation of the binary system. Here it makes sense that 1 kilobyte contains 1024 bytes, since  2^10 bytes are 1024. Correspondingly, 2^20 bytes = 1,048,576 bytes are one megabyte and so on. With this system, usually the system is working, so that these are also the values that are displayed in Explorer.

Assuming we now have a memory stick with 1 GB in the decimal system (which is specified on the packaging). But in view of the system, 1 GB would be 1,073,741,824 bytes and not plain 1,000,000,000 bytes, which are really on the stick. As a result, the system view displayes, that the stick is slightly less than 1 GB, and these are your "missing" bytes.

By the way, you are not the only one confused about this fact. Therefore, it was considered for a long time, how to distinguish these two systems from each other. One way is to say MiB (mebibyte) and KiB (kibibyte) and MB instead of KB in the decimal system. Another early idea was to distinguish between KB and kB. But both can not be relied on, because in the systems and everywhere it is sometimes displayed in this way and sometimes in the other way, not really marked about which system we are just talking.
2012-07-07 at 10:31

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