Generous Bytes

I remember booting up my Commodore 64 computer back in 1985. The bright blue screen that greeted me showed that I had 64,000 bytes of available memory storage. It seemed enormous -exorbitant. At the time, I wondered who would ever need all that memory and for what.

Now it's 2006. I checked the size of my computer's Times New Roman font. The font file is 389,000 bytes.

In 1992, as my dad and I walked in a shopping mall, we passed a Radio Shack that was advertising a new computer system that boasted
a hard drive of 200 megabytes. I remember my dad asking, "Who would ever need that amount of computer storage and for what?" At the time I could only shrug.

Fast forward fourteen years and I just slid a tiny stamp-sized memory card from my camera. It can hold 512 megabytes of digital photos.

Many people are still unclear about the exact meaning of computer memory quantities. A trick I use to visualize computer memory is to convert bytes into dollars. One byte is approximately the amount of memory needed for your computer to store one typed character. Using my conversion scheme of one byte = one dollar, a kilobyte (KB) gives me roughly a thousand bucks (roughly because a kilobyte is actually exactly 1,024 bytes).

A megabyte (MB) becomes a thousand kilobytes or a million dollars -in my mind. This can be a slightly depressing notion as I watch my computer transfer thousands of 2-3 megabyte songs to my iPod. It's during these transfers that I wish my iPod really represented my bank account!

A gigabyte (GB) is 1,000 megabytes, or, one billion dollars -with respect to my metaphor. In 1999 Forbes estimated Bill Gates' worth to be $90 billion. If he spent it all, he could have paid a dollar per byte and ended up with quite a generous hard drive by late nineties' standards! Seven years later, my computer has a couple of hard drives totaling something over 400 gigabytes. Ha! I'd dwarf Bill's wealth -if my bytes really turned to cash.

Terabyte hard drives (1,000 gigabytes) are already available and will soon be common in the consumer market. Next we'll see the petabyte (PB) storage which will make a Terabyte seem scant. A petabyte represents enough storage space to hold 40 million four-drawer filing cabinets full of text.

If the prospect of owning a petabyte of storage has you feeling cramped, you can wait for an Exabyte (EB) hard drive which will store one quintillion bytes (or one billion gigabytes -to put it in "understandable" terms).

Still need more space? Perhaps a zettabyte (ZB) hard drive will be more your style. You'll be able to back up a million terabytes of data on it.

Personally, I'm holding out for a yottabyte (YB) hard drive. Although it is still a measure of theoretical storage, a yottabyte, written out in decimal form would store 1,208,925,819,614,629,174,706,176 bytes. Now, who would ever need that much data storage and for what?

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