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iPodification of the world and drive sizes
Sunday, January 09, 2005

I've been iPodified - Not by force, but, by choice.

The iPod is a cool little toy - I got the 40 GB iPod + HP - I have 2.5 days worth of music in it, which is mostly my GF's, as I rarely listen to music.

So why did I buy a portable MP3 player? I bought the little machine because of the space it provides and the USB interface: I can connect it to any machine with an USB port, and have an extra 40 GB (More like 37 GB - I'll explain below) - I can carry a copy of all my files with me at all times. I'll admit to have a couple music files that are mine, which I listen to them once in while.

As per music choices, I don't have a preference for any style of music; I listen to everything. However, all music bores me if I listen to it for too long.

I'm also known to overplay a "favourite" song. A song becomes my favourite song for 2 days and I play it, and play it, and play it...Until I'm sick of it, and that's the end my favourite artist and song. I also never know who sings a song, nor really care to find out. Music is just music, but, I prefer songs that don't have words in them. Some of the new music is so bad, that the radio station I listen to, is actually in French - I don't speak a word of French, but, I feel a bit relieved that I don't understand the words in the songs, either - I know, it's kind of weird.

Why did I get the iPod + HP? Because of the instant gratification syndrome, we, North Americans suffer from: we must have it all, and we must have it now, or else. The unit I bought, was the only 40 GB drive available at the local Best Buy. There is really no difference from the Apple iPod, except for the HP logo on the back. Oh, well - We must spread the wealth - HP needs to sell things, too.

About the 40 GB and 37 GB discrepancy I mentioned above: you've probably noticed that the claimed size of any drive is NEVER (Yes, I said NEVER) what is advertised. It's funny that drive (and memory makers) don't get sued over false advertising. It's a trick that allows them to convert the "false" claim into a legal "true" claim.

You probably already know this, but, I was thinking about it today when I saw that my new 40 GB iPod only has around 37 GB of true space available.

The story goes like this:
    It has been claimed that, a bit is a "0" or "1" and that 1 byte is composed of "8 bits." Nothing surprising here.

    Now, 1 KB (Kilobyte) is composed of 1,024 bytes. This is because of the fact that everything stored digitally is measured in bits (Os or 1s). So, 1 KB is equal to 2 to the power of 8, or 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 = 1,024 bytes.

    And it is 2 the number we multiply because a bit can only take two values: 0 or 1.

    If we keep expanding the "size" of our 0s and 1s, we can define 1 MB (Megabyte) as 2 to the power of 20 (2^20), or 1,024 Kilobytes.

    And so, we come to a "1 GB", which is 1,024 megabytes or 2^30 = 1,073,741,824 bytes. We could keep going and end up with Terabytes and Gazybytes (A Gazybyte is my word for a 2 to the power of a big number).

    So, a 40 GB drive should have 42,949,672,960 bytes. However, the drives we buy, only have 40,000,000,000 fake bytes, which is about 37.2 true Gigabytes.
Anyway, drive makers (and memory makers) have been able to round up 1 KB or 1,024 bytes to 1,000 bytes - You are probably asking where are the other 24 bytes. You can say that it got lost in the translation from the engineering floor and the marketing desk.

For smaller drives you don't see it as much, obviously enough, there are less 24 byte chunks to account for. However, when we are talking about a 40 GB drive, you feel, well, cheated.

We could attribute the acceptance of this "minor" rounding error to the fact that our counting system is based on a base 10 numbering system and digital computers are based on a base 2 system.

Either someone didn't know about the binary system, or this someone was extremely clever and has saved quite a few millions of dollars to drive makers - I'm an optimist, so I'd like to believe that the person who decided to subtract 24 bytes from 1 KB, was really, really smart - We only wish they teach that in any business school - I'd really hate to think that someone with no math skills decided the fate of computer storage in the 20th and 21st century.

If you think I'm making this up, I'm not. Apparently, a group of computer users in California already tried to sue computer makers for unfair marketing practices.

I can only imagine a distress user sitting on the witness stand making his claim: "Yes, your honor. I had important por...I mean, work files I needed to store in those missing 3 GB and I had to buy a new drive."

10:38 PM | 6 comment(s) |


Hello, my name is Wilfried Nesensohn and I'm from Austria.

I've just read your article, and while I am ready to agree on the fact that the "wrong" size of the drive actually is used by manufacturers because of marketing reasons, I strongly disagree with your statement that this is "cheating" or "unfair".

Simply because it isn't.

micro, milli, kilo, mega, giga and so on have always been powers of 10, and NOT powers of two. Why should anyone be interested in introducing just another new inconsistency? It's ridiculous that some people even consider to sue harddrive makers because they label their drives perfectly OK. If you have problems with the fact that a Megabyte is 10^6 bytes, try to understand what would happen if everyone thinks so, not only with harddrives.

For example, why don't rename Resistors? For example 470Ohm should be 0.5kOhm, just because of DIN 41426 ?? Does that make any sense?

I don't get it. If you want to talk about 1024 byte, use the correct term kibibyte, if you don't, don't complain, please.

Thanks for leaving a message Wilfried.

I don't think I'd change the name to something else, and I do agree with you that we've been using the kilo (et al) for everything - It's just a convenient way to write and communicate large quantities.

However, we have to use the terms in the context of the situation. If I'm talking about a kilobyte, we know (well, some of us) that a byte is 8 bits, and so we (some of us) know that 1 kilobyte is not 1000 bytes.

Nowhere else 1000 bytes is used as a measurement for digital storage - only for drives - Why? I'm not sure, and I'm not insinuating it is big conspiracy of drive makers to decieve a gullible public, however, we are not all computer geeks and know all the intricacies of binary code.

In the end, I guess it comes down to the individual to know what he/she is getting into. But, it still doesn't seem right, nor feel right that the real size is not the real size. Let say a real byte costs 1 cent, then you have overpaid for your drives.

Will drive makers change that? I doubt it. But, it would be kind of cool to actually deal with the "real" value of things and not the invented one. No big deal I guess - It's just a matter of principle and the fact that real size is not the real size, won't stop me from buying another drive. I mean, I need the storage...

>So, a 40 GB drive should have
>42,949,672,960 bytes. However,
>the drives we buy, only have
>40,000,000,000 fake bytes, which
>is about 37.2 true Gigabytes.

This is slightly incorrect. A "40GB" hard disk has the capability to store 40 * 10^9 bytes, where each byte is 8 bits. Hence, there's no issue of real vs. fake bytes. It is merely an issue of metric, base 10 prefixes being used in a base 2 world (eg: using "kilo" to represent 2^10 rather than 10^3).

-Raj Singh
By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:10 AM

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.
By Blogger phil, at 7:48 PM

Here's the point illustrated, plain and simple:

1. Buy a '300GB' hard drive
2. Install and format
3. Check free space: ~280GB

Someone is wrong. Either the OS manufacturers, or the hard drive manufacturers. For the sake of the consumer, it would be better if both parties were on the same page. But who cares about that? There's money to be made!

The inconsistency that Wilfried speaks of is already there - even though it is strictly incorrect, a kilobyte has ALWAYS been 1,024 bytes, but suddenly now it also means 1,000 bytes.

Kibibytes (and counterparts mebibytes, gibibytes, tebibytes and so on) didn't appear until less than a decade ago, and they haven't really caught on.

However, since the OS authors and the computing world at large are (strictly speaking) now wrong, perhaps it is they who should change their ways?

It's unfortunate that 1024 bytes came to be known as a kilobyte, but it's one of those quirks that history has given us (like the different uses of the terms "billion" and "trillion", for instance). I don't see "kibibyte" et al gaining any kind of wide adoption for a long time, if ever.

I'd submit that the power of marketing has some sway here; 'kibibyte' and 'gibibyte' especially sound quite ridiculous in English. If the IEEE had thought up some better-sounding words, the uptake might well have been more significant.
By Blogger phil, at 7:54 PM

sorry for the annon but im Rothguard anyways look they can solve the whole problem by calling the drive what they are if you format the drive and its 280 not 300 call it a 280 gig hdd simple
By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:33 AM

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