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Computing is a data-driven affair. Every single process you can think of that goes on behind the scenes requires storage, whether it be local or on the cloud. This is far from an abstract concept as well, with the space of each piece of data having a quantifiable measurement. In this context, what is the difference between a terabyte and a gigabyte?

For those deeply involved in computing, you may already know the answer. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at how data actually works, and explain the two differences between these storage units.

Terabyte (TB) vs. Gigabyte (GB): Side-By-Side Comparison

FunctionUnit of file size measurement used for larger volumesUnit of file size measurement used for volumes and files
Number of Bytes1,099,511,627,7761,073,741,824
Commonly Seen OnHard drives, solid state drivesHard drives, solid state drives, phone storage, SD cards
Followed ByPetabytesTerabytes
Preceded By GigabytesMegabytes

How Computer Data is Calculated

Before taking a closer look at the differences in sizes, it’s important to understand the math behind data storage. Computers don’t use the typical base-10 counting system you might be accustomed to. Instead, computers use binary, where each potential variable is a 0 or 1. Each of these binary decisions when rendered as a piece of data can be called a bit. Eight of these bits comprise a byte, which is also the base unit for the measurements of this guide. This goes further with the next step, a kilobyte, registering as 1,024 bytes as opposed to 1,000 bytes.

Since the base value of the byte is eight, every increasingly larger value is going to be an exponential growth that returns to eight. Binary has been the primary driver of computing since its infancy, and even complex programs like Photoshop can be summed up to a series of sequential 0s and 1s. It can be a bit nebulous, especially with numbers this vast, but for simplification’s sake just keep in mind that each value needs to be divisible by eight.

Terabyte (TB) vs. Gigabyte (GB): What’s the Difference?

The difference between a terabyte and a gigabyte is rather simple on the face of it. Basically, a gigabyte is 1,024 megabytes, and the next unit up is a terabyte. A terabyte measures 1,024 gigabytes. Let’s take a closer look at where these differences come into play.

File Sizes

With some exceptions, it is exceedingly rare for a locally stored file to measure in terabytes. Typically, files on your computer, smartphone, tablet, and anything else using the same measurement system is going to register in gigabytes at the absolute highest. This is especially seen with intensive media like movies or games. Even massive games will measure in the hundreds of gigabytes, as opposed to a terabyte.

Red Dead Redemption 2
The game Red Dead Redemption 2 will eat up 105GB of storage on your PS4 hard drive.

©Miguel Lagoa/Shutterstock.com

Instead, where you’ll typically see terabytes are on the higher end of storage with mechanical hard drives and solid-state drives. Commercially available storage for mechanical hard drives in particular can reach up to 4TB or 8TB. Even massive server farms, like the ones where Netflix is processing and streaming data at a constant rate, will use hard drives measuring in terabytes while handling transmitting of up to 3 to 7 gigabytes an hour across a user base numbering in the millions.

The best way to think of the two storage measurements would be to consider a gigabyte your typical yardstick while the terabyte is a mile in terms of distance. Another real-world equivalent would be a pound against a ton. Both of the upper units can be measured in terms of the smaller metric, much like a gigabyte going into a terabyte.

Typical Uses

As stated previously, you’ll find terabytes in higher-capacity storage devices. Gaming consoles, as well as desktop computers and laptops, with higher-end hard drives will typically have storage in terabytes. There are some portable storage mediums like thumb drives or SD cards which can measure in terabytes, but this is usually on the more expensive end of things. Also, devices will have different maximum supported storage sizes, so that is something to keep in mind.

Conversely, the gigabyte has become a de facto standard of minimum storage. Your typical smartphone, tablets, and in some rare cases laptops, will see storage measured in gigabytes. This also goes for external storage mediums like thumb drives and SD cards. Storage has become far cheaper than it was 20 years ago, and as such, you can readily see cheaply available thumb drives and the like with storage between 8 to 128GB.

Terabytes have an express purpose in storing larger volumes of data, making them ideal for server farms, larger hard drives, and anywhere else where inexpensive storage is paramount. Gigabytes you’re likely interacting with on a daily basis, especially when dealing with photos, videos, games, or even larger caches of audio.

Extreme upclose of 1 TB hard disk drive (HDD) storage space
Terabytes are found in higher-capacity consumer storage devices for gaming consoles, desktops, and laptops.


Terabyte (TB) vs. Gigabyte (GB): 5 Must-Know Facts

  • Terabytes are the largest data storage commonly used by consumers
  • Gigabytes are seen in just about every commercially available device with storage
  • Gigabytes are the most common measurement of larger data, while terabytes are only typically used for storing large volumes
  • Terabytes are not seen in usage on phone storage
  • Gigabytes are the base unit of measurement for data caps and transfers from your ISP

Terabyte (TB) vs. Gigabyte (GB): Which One is Better? Which One Should You Choose?

You don’t typically make a hard choice as to which data measurement you’ll end up using. Instead, you’re likely using both of these measurements on a regular basis without even realizing it. Downloading apps, streaming movies, installing patches for games, and many other things use data. This typically results in gigabytes of data potentially being downloaded and manipulated on a daily basis.

Extrapolating this further, it is safe to say you’re likely dealing with terabytes on a regular basis as well, thanks to things being measurements. Data drives the modern world, and as such, everyone is interacting with these storage measurements on a daily basis. One isn’t inherently better than the other either, as it would be like saying an inch is better than a foot. Instead, it pays to be aware and educated on the basics of computing and how this is applicable to your day-to-day life.

So, in lieu of choosing one or the other, you’ll likely be using both, at least until someone invents some brand-new way of quantifying and storing data.

Terabyte (TB) vs. Gigabyte (GB): Size and Difference Explained FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How many megabytes are in a gigabyte?

One rule of thumb to keep in mind is that going up the next unit of measurement will always be 1,024 of the preceding measurement. With this in mind, there are 1,024 megabytes in a single gigabyte.

Is a terabyte the largest storage unit available?

No, there are far larger storage measurements than just the terabyte. After the terabyte, there is the petabyte, exabyte, zettabyte, and yottabyte which are all far larger. Of these, the largest is the yottabyte, which has 909,494,701,772 terabytes contained within it. Yottabytes are not something you’ll see a typical storage medium for, but rather account for a summation of data the world over.

As of the time of this writing, the largest store of data to consider would be the internet itself. Google estimates that the internet takes up roughly 5 million terabytes or 0.000005 yottabytes. A yottabyte is an unfathomably huge measure of data and all the data at rest in the world

Are there smartphones with a terabyte of storage?

If your phone has an SD card slot, you could feasibly get the storage to over a terabyte quite easily. Bear in mind that this would require the phone’s operating system to support higher file sizes, as every device has different specifications for this. No production phone will have a terabyte of size by default, however.

With smartphones increasingly losing features like card slots, it might be some time before a production phone can realistically have a terabyte of storage.

Are there smaller units than a gigabyte?

Although the gigabyte serves as the bare minimum of storage for devices, it isn’t the smallest unit available. Below the gigabyte are the megabyte, kilobyte, byte, and bit. A bit is the smallest basic unit seen by a computer, being a simple binary calculation. There are eight bits in a byte, and 1,024 bytes in a kilobyte.

The sizes grow exponentially, but the gigabyte is a happy medium for most purposes.

Are gigabytes calculated with base 10?

No, all storage sizes are calculated with binary, as they can all be summed down to bits.

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