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What Is a Terabyte in Computing, and What Does it Equal?

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What Is a Terabyte in Computing, and What Does it Equal?

Digital computing has a lot of wording that you have to know in order to understand it. In the world of digital storage, there is sort of a system to the whole thing, but it takes a bit of practice to remember. One of the increasingly common terms in digital storage is the terabyte.

Today, we are going to take a look at it and see what it is equivalent to, plus learn a bit about how it’s used. Let’s get started!

What Is a Terabyte?

A terabyte is a unit for digital information storage that represents a pretty large amount of data. It is equivalent to 1,024 gigabytes and is the next unit above the gigabyte on the digital storage scale. A single terabyte can store hundreds of thousands of songs, hundreds of movies, and millions of photographs (depending on their quality).

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It’s been estimated that 10 Terabytes could hold the entire printed collection of the U.S. Library of Congress.

This is enough storage space to meet the needs of most individuals and small businesses. With the rise of digital media and the growing use of cloud storage, terabyte-level storage is becoming increasingly common.

Funnily enough, some sources claim that the name means “a monstrous amount of bytes,” as the Greek prefix “teras” translates to monster or marvel. With 1 trillion bytes, it seems to be a rather fitting name. The only issue is that “tera” also represents a trillion, so the name seems to have origins in the number reference, not the monster one, at least according to Etymology Online.

Comparing a Terabyte

A terabyte of data is a massive amount of information. To put it into perspective, one terabyte can store the equivalent of over 200,000 novel-length books or hundreds of thousands of high-definition photos and videos.

A terabyte of data would be equivalent to filling drawers with paper and stacking them in a room, filling the room. The unit right before it, the gigabyte (GB), is a bit more familiar to people.

Generally speaking, a 4K movie that is two hours long on Netflix would be between 5-8GBs. If a terabyte equals 1024 GBs, it would take around 316 hours, or 5.2 straight days of constant, nonstop streaming, in order to equal a terabyte.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the most common measurements, as listed by the International System of Units:

  1. Bit (the smallest common measurement in computing)
  2. Byte (eight bits)
  3. Kilobyte (1024 bytes)
  4. Megabyte (1024 Kilobytes)
  5. Gigabyte (1024 Megabytes)
  6. Terabyte (1024 Gigabytes)

This is an enormous amount of information, and it is easy to see why data management and storage have become a big topic of conversation in the news lately.

How Are Terabytes Used Today?

In the past, terabytes were “theoretical” units of digital storage and were used mostly in scientific and technical conversations about the future. However, as technology advanced, terabytes have become mainstream units of storage measurement. They’re used by individuals, businesses, and organizations around the world, every day.

With so much content available that is constantly increasing in data requirements (streaming, gaming, and cloud computing), terabytes have pretty much become commonplace for consumers.

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A terabyte of storage used to be a lot, but has since become enough for a mere day’s work shooting in 4K.

Today, terabyte-level storage is common in many devices, and most computers, portable hard drives, and even some smartphones offer configurations with terabyte-level storage. Even though these huge amounts of data are available for individuals, the vast majority of people still aren’t going to need or even use an entire terabyte of data.

The most common use-case for an individual that could need a terabyte of storage is video or photo content creation, especially if they are shooting in extremely high resolutions like RAW, 4K, 6K, or even 8K.

For businesses and organizations, however, terabyte-level storage is pretty standard for storing large amounts of critical data and for backing up their systems. The terabyte is commonly used in high-level data storage and processing centers, with Google and Amazon Web Services being examples.

These data centers are typically filled with racks of hard drives, networked together to provide massive amounts of storage. Each hard drive can have multiple terabytes of storage capacity, with these racks filling rooms that are acres across. This should give you an idea of how much data storage capacity these businesses have.

Can You Buy Terabytes?

Only 15 years ago, the idea of buying a phone with a terabyte of storage was pretty silly, yet here we are. There are all sorts of consumer-level tech products that come in configurations with at least a terabyte of storage. Here are a few examples:

  • Laptops and desktops,
  • Portable hard drives,
  • Gaming consoles,
  • Smartphones,
  • Network-attached storage (NAS) devices.

As time goes on, storage gets cheaper. Although we aren’t quite there yet, we are likely less than 5-10 years away from expecting new devices to at least have a terabyte of storage to be competitive.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How big is a terabyte?

A terabyte is a unit of digital storage capacity that is equal to 1,000 gigabytes (or 1024 in binary).

Can you buy a terabyte hard drive?

Yes, you can buy a terabyte hard drive. Terabyte-level storage is widely available and is commonly used in desktop computers, laptops, gaming consoles, phones, and portable hard drives.

What is the next step up from terabytes?

The next step up from terabytes is petabytes. One petabyte (PB) is equal to 1,000 terabytes (TB).

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