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This article is about the unit of measurement. For the computer hardware manufacturer, see Gigabyte Technology. For the cartoon character, see ReBoot. For the virus writer, see Gigabyte (virus writer).
Multiples of bytes
Value Metric
1000 kB kilobyte
10002 MB megabyte
10003 GB gigabyte
10004 TB terabyte
10005 PB petabyte
10006 EB exabyte
10007 ZB zettabyte
10008 YB yottabyte
1024 KB kilobyte KiB kibibyte
10242 MB megabyte MiB mebibyte
10243 GB gigabyte GiB gibibyte
10244 - - TiB tebibyte
10245 - - PiB pebibyte
10246 - - EiB exbibyte
10247 - - ZiB zebibyte
10248 - - YiB yobibyte
Orders of magnitude of data

The gigabyte (/ˈɡɪɡəbt/ or /ˈɪɡəbt/[1]) is a multiple of the unit byte for digital information storage.

The prefix giga means 109 in the International System of Units (SI), therefore in this context 1 gigabyte is 1000000000bytes. The unit symbol for the gigabyte is GB.

Historically, the term has also been used in some fields of computer science and information technology to denote the gibibyte, or 1073741824 (10243 or 230) bytes. For instance, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) defined the unit accordingly for the use in power switchgear.[2] In 2000, however, IEEE adopted the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) recommendation, which uses the metric prefix interpretation.

Today, the usage of the unit gigabyte continues to depend on the context. When referring to disk capacities, it usually means 109 bytes, often stated explicitly on the manufacturer's permanent sticker. This also applies to data transmission quantities over telecommunication circuits, as the telecommunications and computer networking industries have always used the SI prefixes with their standards-based meaning. When referring to RAM sizes it most often (see binary prefix adoption) has a binary interpretation of 10243 bytes, i.e. as an alias for gibibyte. File systems and software often list file sizes or free space in some mixture of SI units and binary units; they sometimes use SI prefixes to refer to binary interpretation – that is using a label of gigabyte or GB for a number computed in terms of gibibytes (GiB), continuing the confusion.

In order to address this, the International Electrotechnical Commission has been promoting the use of the term gibibyte for the binary definition. This position is endorsed by other standards organizations including the IEEE, the International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM) and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), but the binary prefixes have seen limited acceptance. The JEDEC industry consortium continues to recommend the IEEE 100 nomenclature of using the metric prefixes kilo, mega and giga in their binary interpretation for memory manufacturing designations.


The term "gigabyte" is commonly used to mean either 10003 bytes or 10243 bytes. This originated as compromise technical jargon for the byte multiples that needed to be expressed by the powers of 2 but lacked a convenient name. As 1024 (210) approximates 1000 (103), roughly corresponding SI multiples, it was used for binary multiples as well. In 1998 the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) proposed standards for binary prefixes and requiring the use of gigabyte to strictly denote 10003 bytes and gibibyte to denote 10243 bytes. By the end of 2007, the IEC Standard had been adopted by the IEEE, EU, and NIST. Nevertheless, the term gigabyte continues to be widely used with the following two different meanings:

Base 10 definition

Base 2 definition

Consumer confusion

Since the early 2000s most consumer hard drive capacities are grouped in certain size classes measured in gigabytes. The exact capacity of a given drive is usually some number above or below the class designation. Although most manufacturers of hard disk drives and flash-memory disk devices[4][5] define 1 gigabyte as 1000000000bytes, software like Microsoft Windows reports size in gigabytes by dividing the total capacity in bytes by 1073741824 (230 = 1 gibibyte), while still reporting the result with the symbol "GB". This practice causes confusion, as a hard disk with an advertised capacity of, for example, "400 GB" (meaning 400000000000bytes) might be reported by the operating system as only "372 GB" (meaning 372 GiB). Other software, like Mac OS X 10.6[6] and some components of the Linux kernel[7] measure using the decimal units. The JEDEC memory standards uses the IEEE 100 nomenclatures which defines a gigabyte as 1073741824bytes (or 230 bytes).[8]

The difference between units based on decimal and binary prefixes increases as a semi-logarithmic (linear-log) function—for example, the decimal kilobyte value is nearly 98% of the kibibyte, a megabyte is under 96% of a mebibyte, and a gigabyte is just over 93% of a gibibyte value. This means that a 300 GB (279 GiB) hard disk might be indicated variously as 300 GB, 279 GB or 279 GiB, depending on the operating system. As storage sizes increase and larger units are used, these difference become even more pronounced. Some legal challenges have been waged over this confusion such as a suit against Western Digital.[9][10] Western Digital settled the challenge and added explicit disclaimers to products that the usable capacity may differ from the advertised capacity.[10]

Because of its physical design, computer memory capacity is a multiple of base 2, thus, memory size at the hardware level can always be factored by a power of two. It is thus convenient to use binary units for non-disk memory devices at the hardware level, for example, in boards using DIMM memory. That is, a memory capacity of 1073741824bytes, for example, is conveniently expressed as 1 GiB as opposed to 1.074 GB. Software applications, however, allocate memory in varying degrees of granularity as needed to fulfill data structure requirements and binary multiples are usually not required. Other computer measurements, like storage hardware size, data transfer rates, clock speeds, operations per second, etc., do not depend on an inherent base, and are usually presented in decimal units.

Examples of gigabyte-sized storage

  • One hour of SDTV video at 2.2 Mbit/s is approximately 1 GB.
  • Seven minutes of HDTV video at 19.39 Mbit/s is approximately 1 GB.
  • 114 minutes of uncompressed CD-quality audio at 1.4 Mbit/s is approximately 1 GB.
  • A DVD-R can hold about 4.7 GB.
  • A dual-layered Blu-ray disc can hold about 50 GB.

See also


External links

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