Time for Hard Drive Manufacturers to Cut the GB BS - Macenstein

Time for Hard Drive Manufacturers to Cut the GB BS

Posted by Dr. Macenstein

Let me ask you something.

If I were to sell you a dozen eggs, would you be OK with opening the carton and finding 9 eggs? If a car company were to put up a big sign advertising their new mini van had 100 cubic feet of cargo space, but it actually had about 75, do you think you would have the right to complain? Then why is it we all just accept the misleading way hard drive manufacturers advertise the amount of space on their drives?

What I am referring to is the long-standing, misleading practice hard drive manufacturers use to describe the available free space on their drives via binary math. This is by no means a new problem, but I feel it is is an issue that is becoming more and more relevant as drive sizes expand. For example, in the old days, you might have have a hard drive that was sold to you as 40GB, only to find that once installed, you really only have 37.22GB free. Nowadays, with drive capacities soaring, those 3 missing GB might not seem like a big deal, but as hard drive capacities get larger, so too does the the gap between what you read you were getting in your local computer catalog, and the actual specs provided when you do a “Get Info” on the drive once it’s in your Mac.

For example, 500GB hard drives are quite common these days. However, once you plug that drive into your Mac, you may be unpleasantly surprised to see you really only have 465GB available. Somehow between the store and your house, you lost about 35GB of space! I recently had the pleasure of reviewing a whopping 1Terabyte drive, and while it was thrilling to think I had close to 1000GB in the palm of my hand, I will admit it still annoyed me that what I REALLY had was more like 925GB in there. You may think, well, 925GB is more space than you’d ever need, but that is not the point (oh, and you’d be wrong. I filled that in a month). The point is, the difference between 1000GB and 925GB is 75GB. 75GB is nothing to dismiss lightly (it’s more than the largest iPod can actually hold), and I feel it is a big enough difference to warrant a change in advertising.

Now, before the geek squad begins flaming me about formatting issues, binary math and 1024’s and such, let me just say this. I understand that years ago the hard drive manufacturers got together and decided that consumers were too stupid to understand binary math, so they decided to start rounding off numbers (and in such a way that conveniently gave consumers an inflated perception of their drive’s capacity). My point is, they decided this back when drives topped out at around 5 or 10GB. I think that most consumers these days know what a decimal point is, and they could handle seeing a real world number listed below a hard drive in a catalog. I honestly would have no problem buying a Mac that listed its internal storage as 465.5GB.

Even if the potential differences in capacity that result from the different formatting methods somehow factor in to this intentionally misleading advertising gimmick, it’s not like there are 4000 different ways to format a drive. If manufacturers want to advertise a 500GB drive, then they should have to just put under it (in small writing, like all truth is written) list the actual capacities under the 3 major schemes, FAT32, NTFS, HFS+. And in reality, it’s not like a 500GB drive formatted with FAT32 is going to give you 499.99GB and as NTFS is going to give you 465GB. They are all pretty close, and all closer to 465GB than 500GB.

Change with the times

Where yesterday’s PC user was dealing with 2 kilobyte text files, today’s consumers are handling enormous photo, music, and video collections. Today’s PC user knows that an HD QuickTime movie trailer is 175MB. They understand that each shot from their 9 megapixel digital SLR camera is going to clock in around 5MB. They know a downloaded iTunes TV show takes up 600MB. They know these things, and they are conscious of the amount of free space they have available on their drives. There is no reason to tell them a 465.5GB drive is really a 500GB drive. I say hard drive manufacturers should take a page from the more honest flash media manufacturers, where a 1GB flash card delivers 1GB of storage.

I am not asking for drive manufacturers to adopt a more accessible “base ten” scheme instead of the current binary math used to calculate sizes. I am simply saying give us a little credit. We can handle seeing slightly odd capacity sizes. These ARE computers we’re talking about, remember. Most of us are geeks. We might actually like to tell a friend we have the new 74.5GB iPod.

120 Responses to “Time for Hard Drive Manufacturers to Cut the GB BS”
  1. PLacebo says:

    Sorry to rain on your parade, this has been a known fact since hard drives were manuafactured. How about instead of complaining that someone else should change to make life simpler for you. You wake up, and deal with the way things work.. I havent heard this much whining since my 2 year old started teething.

  2. sumdood says:

    I have noticed on my software requirements they list them in GB of free HD space needed (2GB , 5GB etc…) after installation it uses about that amount listed in windows. So why is the GB listed on the software requirements different from the GB listed on the HD packaging. Isn’t a GB a GB…?

    So if you buy software that is 10GB in size, and bought a hard drive(With windows and cache and all the other stuff already installed…so please don’t say windows uses space etc..)and has 10GB of “ADVERTISED” free space,it would not fit, because all the software that I own uses the binary count or what not for the requirements.

    Why would you list the GB of a hard drive with the decimal count when all the software that will be used for it is in binary. And yes the software shows just GB.

  3. Joe says:

    Ummm…where have you been the last several years?? This issue was already hashed out in the courts when Western Digital got sued over this very thing. The courts decided that the hard drive manufacturers reckoning of a gigabyte was correct.

  4. fuctis says:

    this is the most stupid blog post i’ve ever read…

    If you are bringing up the issue between the GB and GiB, so in this case HDD manufacturers are 100% correct and you should blame bill (gates) that the windows actually calculate GiBs but show them as GB.

  5. tekchip says:

    Hdd manufacturers have no way to account for file system overhead either which also grows as the drive size grows. Tie that in the way the manufacturers calculate and you lose even more of your “500GB”. It’s a fact of computing that will never change until the storage media changes significantly. If you want to regain at least some of that space then go back to fat which has far less file system overhead than say ext3 or NTFS but then enjoy your lost files and system instabilities…oh yeah…wait…you can’t…fat won’t support drives that large. Please take this down it just adds to the garbage I all ready have to sift through to find useful information.

  6. Al says:

    You are a moron. A drive has to be referred to in unformatted capacity. Hey you buy a house in Sq FT don’t you? But do you start to complain that you got ripped off when you put in your furniture and you have less usable space? No? Because you know that you will have to use some space to put sofas and tables and other things.

    Likewise when you buy a drive you know you are going to format it. So do the maths, take 7% off and there you go. There is no need for the manufacturer to do it for you. Requested such a need just proves how lame people are getting these days.

    If I really wanted to I could write one file to my 1TB and use all 1TB. It’s a matter of choice my friend, something which we have in the free world. If drive manufacturers started quoting formatted capacity they would be inaccurrate. This is because there are more than just Windows Morons like you who all they can see is NTFS formatting, but think OS/2 linux, mac, HP-UX, OS/2, Unix, solaris, centos etc… That all adds up to well over 50 different formatting methods right there.

    I propose a second internet one where moron like you can’t come and fill up our space with shit. Man if drive manufactures gave you those extra GB you’d just find a way to fill it with useless garbage like this. I can’t believe I’ve wasted my time commenting on this crap.

  7. rpgfan3233 says:

    If you can’t figure out something like this, bring a calculator when you shop! You divide by 1.024 (1024 KiB/1000KB) for every power of 1000 to get the *iB form or multiply by 1.024 for every power of 1000 to get the equivalent *B form.

    On a 40GB hard drive, I had approximately 37.2GB free according to Windows. Let’s convert that:
    1GB = 1000^3 B
    40 / 1.024^3 B = 37.25 GiB (approximately)

    Simply put, for each increasing unit, you add a power of 1000, meaning that you also add a power of 1.024. Simple enough. To convert from *iB to *B, you simply multiply by 1.024 the same number of times:
    1 GiB = 1024^3 B
    37.25 * 1.024^3 B = 39.99688GB (it rounds up to 40GB)

    Percentages and whatever other crap doesn’t matter. This is the math behind it, and the confusion is caused by the fact that many operating systems are using what is now the *iB form where confusion used to be “Is 1GB = 1000MB or is 1GB = 1024MB?” It is the fault of the OS for using the now improper unit of measure to describe the amount of space on the HDD.

  8. Brandon says:

    I disagree, the hard drive data storage standard fits with the SI standard prefixes for Byte, for example 1 kilobyte is 10^3 Bytes. What windows uses, on the other hand, does not follow the SI prefixes, in windows a Kilobyte is 2^10 bytes, and 2^20 for Mega vs 10^6. So windows is in error and is using a rounded and incorrect standard. In fact a Windows Kilobyte should not be identified as kB, for this is classified as 10^3 but as KiB and subsequently MiB instead of MB, for that is misleading. It is, in fact, just as misleading as B and b, for there is a difference, B is Byte, and generally used for data storage, and is generally 8 bits in length. And a bit (or b) is a binary digit, taking a value of either 0 or 1. For example, the number 10010111 is 8 bits long. So it is incorrect to blame the manufacturer for they are use the scientifically correct measurement of data storage space.

  9. Brandon says:

    … umm, so for the record, i didn’t read any of the previous posts… so my comment was kind of irrevalent. I had only read the first comment thinking that it was the latest.

  10. SiriS says:

    Your internet connections (to the dude way up there) isn’t that fast because that’s how fast it CAN go. It’s slower because what your accessing has a slower connection/tons of people connected/far away/if it’s on a router then that’s your local network speed.

  11. Longbowe says:

    Lets see here. I would like everyone to bend down to their computer and ask it to compute 2 + 2 and see what it tells you. NOTHING. Technology uses BINARY. You may claim that the HDD manufacturers are right in using SI, but they are not. They are not right in using this method. Do you think the CPU gives a care whether your HDD manufacturer advertised in proper SI units? The computer computes the bytes to be based off the binary system because of how technology is. You figure out a way to have a processor recognize ten separate numbers using unique voltage pulses,(Thats one pulse per number) then and only then can you sit here and say HDD manufacturers are doing it right. 2^10 = 1024. Thats how the computer sees it, thats how the consumer should see it… Computer Memory manufacturers advertise in binary, why can’t these HDD manufacturers?

    Oh and for those of you running around screaming “GiB” read the article again, there is no standard for using GiB, it was a recommendation. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GigaByte ) Get your facts straight before you refer someone to a website you supposedly got this “information” from.

  12. Al says:

    Forget about hard drive capacities. The REAL rip-off is when you buy a “2 by 4” that isn’t actually 2 inches by 4 inches!

  13. Mystar says:

    I agree, to a point, that ALL hard drive manufacturers should have to report what you get from a hard drive after it is formatted. However, as for this space being lost, is it really lost or is it reserverd for something else?
    The way I understand it is that when we get our brand new drives and plug them in they don’t have a file system which is the reason why they need to be formatted. It would seem to me that when manufacturers say that actual size varies by which file system the drive is formatted with, they are correct because each file system has overhead which is a factor in the actual space that will be made available.
    And furthermore, do we even actually get to USE that whole 465.5GB? There’s a defragmenting program that requires at least 21% of the drive to be empty before it can even defrag the hard drive. This has recently changed to 2% with the newest version of the program, however. But still, after these factors are considered when spending money on a hard drive, we could end up with only approximately 365GB USABLE hard drive space.
    Again, I agree that it would be nice to look in the file explorer and see the total size as 500GB for each 500GB drive in my system, but it doesn’t work that way (yet). I also agree that here should be some sort of regulation for manufacturers to advise consumers that their 500GB hard will only have 465.5GB usable. But then wouldn’t they also need to advise consumers how much free space should be left available depending on what the drive is being used for?
    At some point it has to be up to the consumer to find out for themselves and understand how the process of hard drive usage works.
    And how can we really blame it on calculation methods? A computer operates with a binary method, but humans understand the decimal better. I think what is being highly overlooked is the fact that it’s the file system which accounts for the difference in space. That space is neither lost nor is it missing because that space is accounted for somewhere. We have 500GB in our hands when we put a new drive in and we end up with only seeing 465.5GB because the other 34.5GB is being used by the file system so that WE can USE that 465.5GB available.
    I really think people should stop seeing that space difference as a loss or missing and look deeper for understanding in where that space actually went. The manufacturer says it depends on the file system. Why is that so hard to understand that is where the space is going and that is where people should look…to find out why NTFS is only letting us use 465.5GB. Can we really justify expecting the manufacturer to rearrange the way hard drives fit into the systems just to fit our decimal needs?
    I still wouldn’t mind seeing the 500GB in Explorer, but I think I understand the method enough to accept the difference and not blame it on a conspiracy to rip us off 35GB.
    I’m sure there’s people within the manufactures who think people are stupid, just as there are people in IT departments who don’t know even half of what they claim to know. But the bottom line is that if we really want a 500GB drive that will give us something closer to that 500GB than 465.5GB, then someone needs to design a file system program that will do it.

  14. LigerMax says:

    I agree. This so annoying what these Hard drive manufacture companies are doing. I recently upgrade my laptop hard drive and in order for me to be sure I have at least 100gb of storage space in it I need to look for an laptop hard drive with at least 120gb (advertised). The same issue comes up when you want to explain to your 10 clients that they do have 100gb of storage space each from your 1 Tera-server!!??

  15. sahan says:

    Yeah Not Only Hard Disk drives even internet when u have a 20 Gb plan what you Really get is 20000 instead of 20480 the problem i see with this is if you exceed even 1 mb after 20000 i.e 20001 they will start charging you?? I am Just Furiose about that They Should not charge people until they exceed real 20 GB

  16. ExSlyder says:

    I remember the ability to format a 360kb floppy to 400kb, it was amazing, 40k extra for storage!!!

    I’m gonna go old school on ya.

    1 bit = 1 bit
    4 bits = 1 nibble
    8 bits = 1 byte
    === Here is where SI has issues ===
    On a computer, which operates SOLELY on binary calculations:
    1024 bytes = 1 kilobyte
    1024 kilobytes = 1 megabyte
    1024 megabytes = 1 gigabyte
    And so on…

    Thus, a byte is still a byte. It’s not like SI is saying, okay, a byte is actually only 7 bits.

    We could avoid all the confusion by the drive manufacturers always listing the actual number of BYTES, and leave the semantics and interpretation of wether it’s a Gigabyte, a Gibibyte, etc. to the consumer.

  17. ExSlyder says:

    Just remember, there are 10 kinds of people in the world, the ones who understand binary, and the ones who dont.

  18. Odhinn says:

    Ok, this is probably a rather later reply, however, I read your post and had to say something. I’ll start off with the fact that there are quite a few problems with your explanation of the missing space. Mind you, I whole-heartily agree with the fact that they need to stop misrepresenting this missing space. However, your explanation is, frankly (and no offense) wrong.

    Ok, to begin with the explanation, a bit is a 1 or a 0. A byte is 8 bits. This is the same for both binary and non-binary counting methods as it’s the building block (sort of like 0-9 in base ten). Where they diverge is with the prefixes. Technically a kilobyte (KB) is 1000 bytes. In binary a kibibyte (KiB) is 1024 bytes. Manufacturers use the decimal prefix so for every KB you are shy 24 bytes from being a KiB. Then you have 1000 KB in a MB, 1024 KiB in a MiB (mibi), 1000 MB in a GB, and 1024 MiB in a GiB (gebi). So technically when we say Kilo, Mega, or Giga bytes, we are referring to the decimal prefixes.

    Now that is the technical difference between the binary prefixes and the decimal ones. One commonly ignored misleading factor is the operating system and whether it uses binary or decimal prefixes. I’m not sure which Mac uses but as a Unix flavor I’m inclined to surmise binary. Windows generally tends to misrepresent the binary values with the decimal prefixes. Most Linuces are the only that I’ve seen to appropriately (most of the time) use the binary prefixes.

    Finally, with that explanation out of the way, I completely agree that they need to stop short changing us and go with the binary count so we get that extra space that we should have, though it would also be nice if every OS was consistent with using the correct prefix so people could eventually notice the difference.

    Oh, a little side note, I’m not entirely sure if formatting takes away from the total space. It may be specific to how the OS view it. I don’t dispute that different formats take up more or less space on the drive depending on data structures, however, some may take that space away from the overall capacity and not show it as space taken up on the drive where others may show the total capacity but also show that this much space is already used.

  19. Warren says:

    To the gallons at the gas pump comment;

    to fill up with 20gallon and actually find less is in your tank, you would have to pay for 20 UK gallon (20fl.oz pint x 8) and actually recieve US gallon (16fl.oz pint x 8)!

  20. Drew says:

    “I am not asking for drive manufacturers to adopt a more accessible “base ten” scheme instead of the current binary math used to calculate sizes”

    Drive manufacturers already use base 10 for labeling drives, which is the entire problem. There’s no “rounding” going on, they’re using different units to measure the capacity than your operating system.

    There are about a bagilion comments above mine explaining this.

    “Now, before the geek squad begins flaming me about formatting issues, binary math and 1024’s and such, let me just say this…”

    What you mean is, before anyone presents you with a logical argument to show that the capacity on the box is EXACTLY the actual capacity of the drive, and they’re just using different units than your operating system, you’re going to tell us about an anecdote that is unsubstantiated (and too recent…5 or 10GB? Try 10 MB) and maybe somewhat true, yet not refute the fact that you can’t make the distinction between units…have you ever worked for Verizon, by chance, maybe in the Canada data roaming billing department?

    Data transmission is given in decimal units, hard drive capacities are given in decimal units, RAM is sold in binary units, and apparently flash memory is, too, so the problem is standardization. Or the fact that consumers don’t read the fine print, because on every hard drive I’ve bought, it says “Note: 1GB=1,000,000,000 Bytes”

    Maybe the real solution is to not use prefixes, and just label everything in bytes. Of course, that still wouldn’t work, unless your computer’s OS also reports it in bytes…

    A 1TB hard drive is 1,000,000,000,000 Bytes, and your computer will show it as about 909.49 GiB….which is…1,000,000,000,000 Bytes.

    Dr. Macenstein, I’m just curious as to what field your PhD is in…I’m willing to bet it’s not in one of the hard sciences, or you’d be more careful with your units.

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