Do you know the difference between a megabit (Mb) versus a megabyte (MB)?
While the two sound the same and have the same abbreviation, they’re actually very different. And they’re both quite important, as they determine the speed of data, such as your internet connection (that you’re paying big bucks for) and the size of data on storage devices, like hard drives.
Yes, it’s a little confusing, but today we’re going to explain everything you need to know about the megabit (Mb) and the megabyte (MB).
What Is a Megabit and a Megabyte?
First, we need to go back to the piece that starts it all—the bit. A bit is a binary digit, which is a very small unit of digital, computerized data. Eight of these bits composes a byte. A megabit contains about 1 million of those bits, and eight (8) megabits makes up a single megabyte.
For the most part, data sizes for hard drives and files are usually measured with “bytes,” whereas data for broadband goes by “bits.”
You may be more familiar with gigabytes (GB) or even terabytes (TB), as they are more commonly used these days in terms of data storage. A gigabyte holds about 1000 megabytes of data, and a terabyte is 1000 gigabytes.
When you look at it that way, a terabyte is just a lot of bits in one place. Pretty crazy when you think about it, right?
What’s the Difference Between the Abbreviations?
The abbreviations are also very important to take note of. Since a megabit is a smaller unit than a megabyte, it features the lowercase “b,” making it’s abbreviation “Mb.” Megabyte is larger, therefore it gets the capital “B” in “MB.”
Both megabits and megabytes are commonly used to indicate the data transfer speed of something, such as hard drives or internet connections. If you’re just referring to hard drives, then the abbreviation remains “Mb” or “MB.”
But in terms of internet speeds, you refer to the amount of megabits or megabytes that are transferred each second, thus creating the abbreviations “Mbps” and “MBps,” with the “ps” standing for “per second.”
Why You Should Know Both Megabit and Megabyte
We all need internet access at home, and these days, it’s always about broadband from the cable company. Often times, they feature packages where you can get speeds of “up to 50Mbps” or “100Mbps” and the like. It’s important to know what exactly you’re paying for.
You may think that a 100Mbps package sounds like super fast speeds, and while you won’t be wrong (it’s still plenty fast), don’t expect to just download a 100MB file in a second.
That’s because when internet Service Providers (ISP) sell you an “up to 100Mbps” connection, that is actually referring to 100 megabits per second, and not 100 megabytes per second. In fact, we even have a whole guide on understanding internet speeds, because it’s a tricky topic.
In fact, if you have a 100Mbps connection, that’s actually a 12.5MBps, which doesn’t sound as impressive. You get this calculation from dividing 100 by 8, since eight bits go into one megabit. I have a 400Mbps connection at home, which translates to 50MBps. Again, the first number is a lot more impressive than the smaller one, right?
ISPs use megabits as a marketing tactic to make their packages sound more enticing to potential customers. That’s because these numbers are larger, and look more monumental than the smaller counterparts.
They also say that you can get up to those speeds, so it’s not guaranteed all the time, especially during peak hours.
Services like SpeedTest provide you with a simple test of your internet speed, and they always deliver results in Mbps, since it’s standard of the industry. However, you can change the setting of your speed test service to have it say MBps instead of Mbps.
Say you’re wanting to download a 750MB file. This file is also the same as 6000Mb (6000 divided by 8 is 750). If you have a 50Mbps connection, that file would be downloaded in two minutes. A slower connection, say 10Mbps, would take 10 minutes to download the same file.
Buying a New Hard Drive
If you are in the market for a new hard drive for your computer, or perhaps even an external hard drive or other storage device, then you should also pay attention to the capacity. However, for drive sizes, few display the capacity as megabytes as most use gigabytes nowadays.
When you shop for drives, you’ll usually find sizes like 256GB, 500GB, 750GB, 1TB, and so on. With these numbers, they translate into 256000MB, 500000MB, and 750000MB, respectively.
Since 1TB is 1000GB, that means about 1000000MB. The formula for finding out how many megabytes something holds is to multiply the gigabyte value by 1000.
Usually, to talk about how fast a connection is, you just use bits (Mb for most internet speeds). Bytes (MB, GB, TB, etc.) are used mostly when you are referring to storage and file sizes.
How Do I Calculate Megabit and Megabyte Again?
It’s simple enough to remember: a megabyte (MB) contains eight (8) megabits (Mb). Whenever you see something in MB, just multiply that by eight to find how many megabits it is.
For the purpose of conversions, let’s make x stand for MB and y represent Mb.
xMB x 8 = yMb
If you want to convert megabits (Mb) into megabytes (MB), then divide it by eight.
yMb / 8 = xMB
To figure out how long it should take to download a file (based on the speed cap you pay for), try this formula, where p stands for the speed you’re paying for and t is your download time.
(xMB x 8) / pMbps = t (in seconds)
Then of course, you’ll want to convert those seconds into minutes for a better representation of how long it will take.
If you’re going from gigabytes to megabytes, times the gigabyte number (let’s go with a for gigabyte) by 1000 to find out how many megabytes that is.
aGB x 1000 = xMB
It’s highly recommended to use Google’s search engine to convert digital storage units too, if you’re not good with math.
Megabits and Megabytes Are Not the Same
Yes, it’s slightly confusing when you see Mb and MB used often, and you thought they were interchangeable. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. Hopefully you now understand the differences between a megabit (Mb) and megabyte (MB), and can convert them easily.
Next, find out why a 1TB drive only has 931GB of space in our explanation of hard drive sizes.