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Linux Mint – Understanding gibibytes versus gigabytes and mebibytes versus megabytes

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While learning more about Linux, you may become confused about some terminology you’re likely to find relating to storage devices. In the field, most people refer to data sizes as megabytes, gigabytes, and so on. While this is also true of Linux, you may see other terms, such as mebibytes and gibibytes, used to describe data sizes as well,. So, what’s the deal?

First, it’s important to understand that the storage measurement terms you’re probably accustomed to, such as megabyte (MB) and gigabyte (GB), are part of the International System of Units ( SI). This is a standard form of measurement for scientific data that has been used for quite some time. Typical words in the SI system include kilo, mega, giga, and others. Therefore, when the SI system is applied to computer storage (bytes), we get kilobyte, megabyte, gigabyte, and so on.

However, there was a bit of error when applying the SI system to measuring computer storage. The SI recognizes kilo as 10^3, mega as 10^6, and giga as 10^9. (The caret (^) symbol in the context of this section refers to powers. For example, 10^6 should be read as 10 to the sixth power.) However, computers represent the same levels of storage as 2^10, 2^20, and 2^30, respectively. This has caused quite a bit of confusion in the industry. In fact, there was a time period where consumers were quite angry that the advertised space for the hard drives they were purchasing didn’t give them as much storage as advertised, so some new measurement terms were created.

The solution was to create a new measurement system with some new words. Instead of measuring data in kilobytes, we now have kibibytes (2^10), mebibytes (2^20), and gibibytes (2^30), which is what you’ll see quite often in Linux distributions nowadays. These are abbreviated as KiB, MiB, and GiB, respectively. Although this new unit of measurement is largely considered to be politically correct, it hasn’t caught on everywhere in Linux land just yet. As you may have noticed in the Disk Usage Analyzer screenshot in the previous section, not all applications are adopting this new system. Therefore, you’ll that see both units are used throughout Linux for now.

Note

The KiB, MiB, and GiB storage terms are not Linux specific, but are mentioned in this tutorial because Linux distributions were some of the first software releases to implement and accept this new method. Microsoft Windows, for example, still uses the older KB, MB, and GB terms at the time of writing this tutorial.

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