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Definition: byte


(BinarY TablE) The common unit of computer storage from desktop computer to mainframe. It is made up of eight binary digits (bits). A ninth bit may be used in the memory circuits as a parity bit for error checking.

A byte holds one alphabetic character such as the letter A, a dollar sign or decimal point. For numeric data, one byte holds one decimal digit (0-9), two "packed decimal" digits (00-99) or a binary number from 0 to 255. See space/time.

From Bite to Byte
IBM coined the term in the mid-1950s to mean the smallest addressable group of bits in a computer, which was originally not eight. The first spelling of the word was "bite," but the y was added to avoid misspelling between "bit" and "bite."

Byte Specifications
Drives and memory (RAM) are rated in bytes. For example, a 500-gigabyte (500GB) drive stores 500 billion characters of program instructions and data permanently, while four-gigabytes (4GBs) of RAM hold four billion temporarily. The first hard drives in early personal computers held 5MB, and RAM was 64K. See memory and file size.




The Bits and Bytes





The Bytes Get Really Small!
In 1991, this hard drive held 670 megabytes. By 2018, the microSD card (arrow) reached two terabytes, some 3,000 times more storage. The disk weighs 17 pounds in its case. The flash memory card weighs half a gram. See microSD.