When I see ads for computers, I see “MB” all the time. Sometimes it’s only 8MB and other times it’s something like 340MB. What is it?

“MB” stands for “megabyte,” a measure of digital information. Sometimes you might also see “KB” or just “K,” which stands for “kilobyte.” The amount of data a computer’s components can hold is measured in thousands or millions of units called bytes. Some of these components are the hard drive inside the case, the floppy diskettes you insert in the slots on the front, the RAM memory chips on the main circuit board, and the storage chips on the video circuit board.

So what is a byte? All computer information is in the form of eight digits. Each digit can be either zero or one -- for example, 10011001. These patterns of eight zeros and ones form a code which translates into the letters of the alphabet, numerals, punctuation marks, etc. Each individual “0” or “1” is called a bit. Each group of eight bits is called a byte. So each byte can be thought of as one character, like any letter or number. Now, what about the “K” and “MB”? The “K” stands for “kilo-”, the prefix for “thousand.” The “M” stands for “mega-”, the prefix for “million.” Put it all together and you get one kilobyte equals about a thousand bytes (actually 1024) and one megabyte equals about a million bytes.

But how much is that in understandable terms? Well, it’s estimated that a double-spaced typewritten page contains about 2,000 individual characters (bytes), or 2K. That means a high density floppy disk with a capacity of 1.44MB (remember, that’s 1.44 megabytes or 1,440,000 bytes) can hold the equivalent of approximately 720 double-spaced typewritten pages (1,440,000 divided by 2,000).

So what does that mean to you? Well, the larger the hard drive in your computer, or the more megabytes of capacity it has, the more programs and data it can hold. Sizes today range from about 340MB to as much as 1,000MB or more, which is known as a gigabyte.

With regard to RAM capacity, the more megabytes of chip memory your computer has, the faster it can run your programs and the more programs it can run at the same time to improve productivity. Most new computers these days have 32MB or even 64MB of RAM. If yours doesn’t have at least 32MB, you should take your computer to your nearest computer store and get your RAM upgraded. You’ll be glad you did.

Finally, the video circuit board that runs your monitor determines how clear your screen is and how many colors it can produce. More chip storage capacity means higher resolution, a clearer picture, and more colors--thus, an 8MB video card is superior to a 4MB video card.

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