Megabits (Mb) and megabytes (MB) sound identical, and their abbreviations use the exact same letters, but they certainly don’t mean the same thing. It’s important to be able to distinguish between the two when you’re calculating things like the speed of your internet connection and the size of a file or hard drive.
What is the difference between a megabit and a megabyte? The answer is obvious to computer people – it’s “a factor of eight,” since there are eight bits in a single byte. But there’s a lot more to the answer, too, involving how data moves, is stored, and the history of computing.
What does it mean if you’re testing your internet speed and you’re told it’s 18.20 Mbps?
The Little “b” vs the Big “B”
Megabits are expressed as Mb or Mbit when talking about digital storage, or Mbps (megabits per second) in the context of data transfer rates. All of these are expressed with a lowercase “b.”
For example, an internet speed test can measure your network’s speed at 18.20 Mbps, which means that 18.20 megabits are being transferred every second. What’s interesting is that the same test can say that the available bandwidth is 2.275 MBps, or megabytes per second, and the values are still equal.
If a file you’re downloading is 750 MB (megabytes), it’s technically also 6000 Mb (megabits).
Here’s why, and it’s very simple…
There Are 8 Bits in Each Byte
A bit is a binary digit or small unit of computerized data. A bit is really, really small – smaller than the size of a single character in an email. For the sake of simplicity, think of a bit as the same size of a text character. A megabit, then, is approximately 1 million typed characters.
Here is where the formula 8 bits = 1 byte can be used to convert megabits to megabytes, and vice versa. Another way to look at it is that a megabit is 1/8 of a megabyte, or that a megabyte is 8 times that of a megabit.
Here are some easy examples:
- Eight (8) megabits = 1 megabyte (8 Mb = 1 MB)
- One (1) megabit = 1/8 megabyte = 0.125 megabyte (1Mb = 1/8 MB = 0.125 M)
Another easy way to remember the size difference between a megabit and a megabyte is to just remember that when their units are equal (so when you’re comparing Mb with Mb, or MB with MB) the megabit (Mb) number is supposed to be larger (because there are 8 bits within each byte).
However, a super quick way to figure the megabit and megabyte conversion is to use Google. Just search something like 1000 megabits to megabytes.
Note: Even though a megabyte is 1 million bytes, the conversion is still “million to million” since both are “megas,” meaning we can use 8 as the conversion number instead of 8 million.
Why You Should Know the Difference
Knowing that megabytes are actually different than megabits is important mainly when you’re dealing with your internet connection because that’s typically the only time you even see megabits when it comes to tech-related things.
For instance, if you’re comparing internet speeds when purchasing an internet package from a service provider, you might read that Service A can deliver 8 Mbps and Service Z offers 8 MBps.
- Service A: 8 Mbps = 1 MBps
- Service Z: 64 Mbps = 8 MBps
Choosing the cheaper service would likely mean that you’d buy ServiceA, but if you needed quicker speeds, you may have wanted to buy the more expensive one. This is why it’s so important to recognize their differences.
What About Gigabytes and Terabytes?
These are some other terms used to describe data storage, but are much, much larger than megabytes.
In fact, a megabyte, which is 8 times the size of a megabit, is actually 1/1000 of a gigabyte… that’s tiny!