The megabyte is a multiple of the unit byte for digital information. Its recommended unit symbol is MB. The unit prefix ''mega'' is a multiplier of (106) in the International System of Units (SI). Therefore, one megabyte is one million bytes of information. This definition has been incorporated into the International System of Quantities. However, in the computer and information technology fields, two other definitions are used that arose for historical reasons of convenience. A common usage has been to designate one megabyte as (220 B), a measurement that conveniently expresses the binary multiples inherent in digital computer memory architectures. However, most standards bodies have deprecated this usage in favor of a set of binary prefixes, in which this quantity is designated by the unit mebibyte (MiB). Less common is a convention that uses the megabyte to mean 1000×1024 () bytes.


The megabyte is commonly used to measure either 10002 bytes or 10242 bytes. The interpretation of using base 1024 originated as a 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 to the SI prefix kilo-, it was a convenient term to denote the binary multiple. In 1998 the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) proposed standards for binary prefixes requiring the use of megabyte to strictly denote 10002 bytes and mebibyte to denote 10242 bytes. By the end of 2009, the IEC Standard had been adopted by the IEEE, EU, ISO and NIST. Nevertheless, the term megabyte continues to be widely used with different meanings: ; Base 10 : 1 MB = bytes (= 10002 B = 106 B) is the definition recommended for the International System of Units (SI) and by the International Electrotechnical Commission IEC. This definition is used in networking contexts and most storage media, particularly hard drives, flash-based storage, and DVDs, and is also consistent with the other uses of the SI prefix in computing, such as CPU clock speeds or measures of performance. The Mac OS X 10.6 file manager is a notable example of this usage in software. Since Snow Leopard, file sizes are reported in decimal units. In this convention, one thousand megabytes (1000 MB) is equal to one gigabyte (1 GB), where 1 GB is one billion bytes. ;Base 2 : 1 MB = bytes (= 10242 B = 220 B) is the definition used by Microsoft Windows in reference to computer memory, such as RAM. This definition is synonymous with the unambiguous binary prefix mebibyte. In this convention, one thousand and twenty-four megabytes (1024 MB) is equal to one gigabyte (1 GB), where 1 GB is 10243 bytes (i.e., 1 GiB). ;Mixed : 1 MB = bytes (= 1000×1024 B) is the definition used to describe the formatted capacity of the 1.44 MB HD floppy disk, which actually has a capacity of .Tracing the History of the Computer - History of the Floppy Disk
/ref> Semiconductor memory doubles in size for each address lane added to an integrated circuit package, which favors counts that are powers of two. The capacity of a disk drive is the product of the sector size, number of sectors per track, number of tracks per side, and the number of disk platters in the drive. Changes in any of these factors would not usually double the size. Sector sizes were set as powers of two (most common 512 bytes or 4096 bytes) for convenience in processing. It was a natural extension to give the capacity of a disk drive in multiples of the sector size, giving a mix of decimal and binary multiples when expressing total disk capacity.

Examples of use

Depending on compression methods and file format, a megabyte of data can roughly be: * a 1megapixel bitmap image (eg. ~1152x864) with 256 colors (8 bits/pixel color depth) stored without any compression. * a 4megapixel JPEG image (eg. ~2560x1600) with normal compression. * 6seconds of 44.1kHz/16bit uncompressed CD audio. * 1minute of 128kbit/s MP3 lossy compressed audio. * a typical English book volume in plain text format (500 pages × 2000 characters per page). The human genome consists of DNA representing 800MB of data. The parts that differentiate one person from another can be compressed to 4MB.

See also

* Timeline of binary prefixes *


External links

Historical Notes About The Cost Of Hard Drive Storage Space

(established definition in Networking and Storage industries; fro

IEC prefixes and symbols for binary multiples
{{Computer Storage Volumes Category:Units of information