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The Story of the Gigabyte


A gigabyte (Gb) is 1,073,741,824 bytes, although it is often assumed to be about a thousand-million bytes. How big this really is, and how big it's felt to be, is something which has gone through social changes in my early lifetime. Here are some notable observations about the Gigabyte in history:

1. When I was studying the first-year re-sits as a challenge by which I could gain entry to Manchester University to study for a Computer Science degree in 1980-81, the main university computer at Leeds University had been spectacularly upgraded to over a thousand megabytes. This was big news as no-one generally had disc memory capacities of that type.

2. When I bought a Pentium 75 computer in 1996, I upgraded it with an extra hard disc drive and it was notable among my friends that the machine had "over a gigabyte". This was unusually big for someone's personal computer.

3. In 2009 a good friend gave me a gigabyte SD card which was the size of a postage stamp and had been bought for 20 pence as a special offer from one of the bargain clearance companies.

It is an interesting thing to be living at a time in history when memory sizes and computer power specifications are getting bigger at such a rate. In the early days, no-one said "gigabyte", and now terabyte hard disc drives are commonplace, and soon it will be petabyte drives, and then exabyte drives, etc. I've noticed a new Latin prefix gone through about every 13 years. (see gigabytes and terabytes). This sort of thing is known as Moore's Law, after Gordon Moore (one of the co-founders of Intel) who said in 1965 that computer circuit complexity per size would double every year or two. However, Alan Turning had been saying about computers getting bigger at such rates since about 1950. It may seem mindboggling, but this is a practical fact about the world. It is reasonable to extrapolate a future such that by the time I am resurrected from being frozen in liquid nitrogen, various new measurements will be in use!

Also see hard disc drives , data rescue , gigabytes and terabytes, What's the Best Size for a Disc Drive?, etc.

"When travelling back in time to the 1970s, it's easier to get people to believe you've travelled back in time than it is to convince them you've got a GIGABYTE on a little pen-drive". - this is on the page about the Space-Age Cat Toilet