# Prefixes for decimal and binary multiples powers of ten

This article explains what decimal and binary prefixes are, when they should be used, what are the differences between them and how they are used with hardware and software. The International System of Units abbreviated SI defines a set of prefixes, with an associated symbol, to represent multiples or submultiples of a unit of measure.

For example, the kilo- prefix can be combined with the unit metre to form "kilometre". Every decimal prefix denotes a specific power of 10 and has a name and a symbol, as shown in the following table:.

To denote the submultiples of the units of measure, there are also other SI prefixes with a negative power of 10, such as milli-micro-nano-etc. All the prefixes shown in the previous table are written in the upper-case form except the "k". In SI the "K" symbol represent the kelvin, a unit of temperature. Even though it's unlikely that the "K" used as kelvin and the "K" improperly used as kilo- might be confused, the latter is wrong. About 40 years ago, when they started to use this notation, they all knew that the term kilobyte was intended as bytes and there was no confusion, but when laymen and other specialists such as scientists and engineers started to prefixes for decimal and binary multiples powers of ten computers, they weren't aware of this difference.

Moreover, these decimal prefixes are sometimes used with their original meaning even in computing. There was the need of a different set of binary prefixes to resolve this ambiguity. On page 23 of the 7 th edition of the SI brochurepublished inthere is a marginal note that, referring to the decimal prefixes, says:. They should not be used to indicate powers of 2 for example, one kilobit represents bits and not bits. Prefixes for decimal and binary multiples powers of ten symbols to be used in electrical technology specifically in Part 2: In the following table are listed all the binary prefixes defined in these standards:.

The names of the new prefixes are formed adding the letters "bi" for binary after prefixes for decimal and binary multiples powers of ten first two letters of the corresponding SI prefix e.

Their symbols are formed adding a "i" to the SI symbol e. Note that, for consistency with the others, the simbol for kibi- is "Ki" and not "ki". With these prefixes is thus possible to indicate binary multipliers and preserve the decimal meaning of the SI prefixes, avoiding ambiguity. A common mistake is to think that the correct thing to do now that the binary prefixes have their own symbols, is to just use them everywhere.

Even thought using the right binary prefix is certantly better than misusing the decimal ones, there's no real reasons to use binary prefixes in most of the cases. Working with powers of 10 is easier, therefore prefixes for decimal and binary multiples powers of ten, if the quantities we are dealing are not exact powers of 2, decimal powers should be preferred.

Let's see a few examples of quantities that should be indicated using decimal and **prefixes for decimal and binary multiples powers of ten** prefixes:.

File sizes are probably the quantities that are most frequently found while working with PCs. File sizes are not powers of 2. For example, this document is now bytes, and it's easier to express this as With decimal prefixes it's also a lot easier to add and subtract values with different prefixes.

For example assume that we have a 4. Let's do the same calculation again, but assuming that the sizes of the files are instead expressed with binary prefixes. The sizes are expressed with binary prefixes so it's more difficult to convert them to MiB: Our DVD uses decimal prefixes and its size is 4.

After several conversion we finally found out that the exact size of all the files is 5. Even though it's now clear how using decimal prefixes greatly simplifies calculations, several applications still prefers to use binary prefixes.

The main reason is that decimal prefixes were and are often misused e. Using MiB avoids ambiguity and clarifies that the quantity is equal to 1 bytes, but on the other hand it makes the calculations more difficult. A better approach would be to use decimal prefixes with their correct meaning of courseand possibly specify the exact size in bytes or add a note to clarify that the application is using decimal prefixes.

As noted by the IT specialist, the difference between 1 kB bytes and 1 KiB bytes is not so much, but it grows with the larger prefixes. This table and graph show the differences between decimal and binary prefixes.

For example, 1 GB is equal to 0. The following table and graph, instead, show the differences between binary and decimal prefixes. For example, 1 **Prefixes for decimal and binary multiples powers of ten** is equal to 1.

Finally, this table combines the two previous tables and summarizes the differences between the prefixes, showing their exact value in bytes. As we said at the beginning of this paragraph, the difference between 1 kB and 1 KiB is only 24 bytes, but between 1 TB and 1 TiB is about Between a YB and a YiB is even greater: It's quite clear that the difference will keep increasing as long as the technology will evolve, and that small errors will become huge.

Nowadays we already use gigabytes and terabytes and these differences are already noticeable. We will now analize how these prefixes are used to specify the size of mass-storage devices, memories and the speed of processors. The size of the hard disks is probably one of the well-known cases where the differences between the prefixes leads to confusion. Due to the high number of bytes that a modern hard disk can store, it's easy to see the divergence between what you read on the package and what your operative system may see.

If you buy a GB hard disk you will probably note that some operative prefixes for decimal and binary multiples powers of ten e. Actually those 35 GB are not disappeared, the size of the hard disk is really GB and the OS can see all the bytes, but since it misuses the decimal "GB" with binary meaning instead of using "GiB" the two values appear to be different.

The hard disks manufacturers usually use the SI decimal prefixes and thus they correctly state the capacity of the disks in giga or tera bytes. We want to know how many GiB are bytes, so: Their size is supposed to be 1.

A floppy can store bytes per sector and prefixes for decimal and binary multiples powers of ten has 2 sides divided in 80 tracks where each track has 18 sectors. Once again math can help us:. The size of a floppy, in bytes, is: If we divide this value with the value of the "third MB" we obtain: Actually, its real size in MB and MiB is: We also said that its size is 1 KiB: Once again the real size of the floppy is not the one that the OS may see.

In this case is not only due to the use of the prefixes. For example, Windows detected only 1. This happen with other storage devices too, but the number of non-detected bytes compared with the overall size of the devices is usually fairly small.

The size of flash drives e. Althought these values are powers of two, the prefixes they use are decimalso a MB and a 4 GB USB flash drive can store respectively roughly and 4 bytes. Since the CPU registers responsible for addressing memory follow a binary logic, they can address a number of bytes in the RAM equal to a power of two.

The aforementioned is also applicable to the memory of video cards and other similar types of memory. Since there is no reason to use binary prefixes in this situation, only the decimal prefixes are used. For example, a CPU with a frequence of 2 GHz will be able to do 2 cycles in a second one hertz is equal to one cycle per second. On the other hand, all the size of registers as well as the cache memory are based on powers on two, so they use binary prefixes.

Windows uses decimal prefixes MB, GB, It doesn't seem aware of the existence of binary prefixes, even though some third-party applications e. FileZilla might use them. It also seems that the size shown by Windows is truncated instead of rounded e. There are errors even in the documentation, for instance, in the article Determining Actual [Floppy] Disk Size there's written: Although its size has been popularly called 1.

We have seen that the size of a floppy is 1. Linux The kernel use the prefixes correctly but other applications might follow different conventions.

For instance, dd can understand both the decimal and the binary prefixes:. In the output we can see that it has copied exactly 20 bytes. We can finally summarize what we saw in the article and give some suggestions and guidelines: Prefixes are used to specify multiples and submultiples of a unit. The decimal prefixes are based on powers of The decimal prefixes are: The binary prefixes are based on powers of 2.

The binary prefixes are: The symbol for the "kilo-" prefix is the lowercase 'k-'. The 'K-' prefix is not part of any standard and it shouldn't be used. Decimal prefixes should be used in most of the cases. In the few cases where the values measured are powers of two, binary prefixes should be used.

Binary and Decimal prefixes This article explains what decimal and binary prefixes are, when they should be used, what are the differences between them and how they are used with hardware and software. Every decimal prefix denotes a specific power of 10 and has a name and a prefixes for decimal and binary multiples powers of ten, as shown in the following table: The "k" case All the prefixes shown in the previous table are written in the upper-case form except the "k".

Graph 1 - Differences between decimal and binary prefixes. Graph 1 - Differences between binary and decimal prefixes.

A unit prefix is a specifier or mnemonic that is prepended to units of measurement to indicate multiples or fractions of the units. Units of various sizes are commonly formed by the use of such prefixes. The prefixes of the metric systemsuch as kilo and millirepresent prefixes for decimal and binary multiples powers of ten by powers of ten. In information technology it is common to use binary prefixeswhich are based on powers of two.

Historically, many prefixes have been used or proposed by various sources, but only a narrow set has been recognised by standards organisations. The prefixes of the metric system precede a basic unit of measure to indicate a decadic multiple and fraction of a unit. Each prefix has a unique symbol that is prepended to the unit **prefixes for decimal and binary multiples powers of ten.** Some of the prefixes date back to the introduction of the metric system in the s, but new prefixes have been added, and some have been revised.

The International Bureau of Weights and Measures has standardised twenty metric prefixes in resolutions dating from to for use with the International System of Units SI. Although formerly in use, the SI disallows combining prefixes; the microkilogram or centimillimetre, for example, are not permitted. Prefixes corresponding to powers of one thousand are usually preferred, however, units such as the hectopascal, hectare, decibel, centimetre, and centilitre, are commonly used.

In mathematical contexts, the unit prefixes are always considered part of the unit, so that, e. In general, prefixes are used with any metric unit, but may also be used with non-metric units. Some combinations, however, are more common than others. The choice of prefixes for a given unit has often arisen by convenience of use and historical developments.

Unit prefixes that are much larger or smaller than encountered in practice are seldom used, albeit valid combinations. In most contexts only a few, the most common, combinations are established. For example, prefixes for multiples greater than one thousand are rarely applied to the gram or metre. Some prefixes used in older versions of the metric system are no longer used. The prefix " myrio- " was an alternative spelling variant for " myria- prefixes for decimal and binary multiples powers of ten, as proposed by Thomas Young.

A binary prefix indicates multiplication by a power of two. This has prompted the use of the metric prefixes kilomegaand giga to also denote the powers of which is common in information technology with the unit of digital information, the byte. Units of information are not covered in the International System of Units. Computer professionals have historically used the same spelling, pronunciation and symbols for the binary series in the description of computer memoryalthough the symbol for kilo is often capitalised.

In the specifications of hard disk drive capacities and network transmission bit rateson the other hand, decimal prefixes, consistent with the metric system, are used. For example, a gigabyte hard drive holds billion bytes, and a megabit-per-second Ethernet connection transfers data at million bits per second.

The ambiguity has led to some confusion and even of lawsuits from purchasers who were expecting 2 20 or 2 30 and considered themselves shortchanged by the seller. Western Digital Corporation and Cho v. The symbols are the decimal symbol, always capitalised, followed by the letter "i".

According to these standards, kilomegagiga et seq. Their adoption in popular publications remains limited. Many personal, and sometimes facetious, proposals for additional metric prefixes have been formulated. Inan online petition sought to establish hella as the SI prefix for 10 27a movement that began on the campus of UC Davis. In addition, the final letters of the alphabet, z and yappear in the largest SI prefixes, zetta and yotta.

Using Greek for ascending and Latin for descending would be consistent with established prefixes such as deca, hecto, kilo vs deci, centi, milli. Unit prefix A unit prefix is a specifier or mnemonic that is prepended to units of measurement to indicate multiples or fractions of the units. Distance marker on the Rhine: Retrieved 1 March Joseph and Edward Parker.

Polytechnisches Journal in German. Madhya Pradesh District Gazeteers - Indore. Retrieved 18 February Prefixes for binary multiples". National Institute of Science and Technology. Retrieved 9 September Prefixes for decimal and binary multiples powers of ten Zettabytes And Yottabytes". A Campaign to Turn Slang into Science". More than 20, scientists, students and members of the public have signed an online petition backing prefixes for decimal and binary multiples powers of ten new quantity, which would be used for figures with 27 zeros after the first digit.

The San Francisco Chronicle. The names yocto and yotta are derived from octowhich suggests the number eight eighth power of 10 3 ; the letter "y" is added to avoid the use of the letter "o" as a symbol because of the possible confusion with the digit zero. Decimal Value SI