Friday, August 20, 2010

The Case of the Missing Megabytes

Ever wondered why that DVD you bought that has a capacity of 4.7 GB on the label is able to hold no more than 4.3 gigs? Or why your 500 GB external hard disk maxes out at around 467 GB? I got curious one day and did a little rummaging around. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of what i inferred.

The differences between the binary and decimal number systems are central to understanding the concept behind this.

To start with, main memory (RAM) used in computers is designed with binary logic, and thus, multiples are expressed in powers of 2 rather than 10. Thus, prefixes used for main memory have always referred to their binary interpretation, for e.g.,

1 GB of RAM indicates

1 Gigabyte = 1024 Megabytes = (1024)2 or 1,048,576 Kilobytes = (1024)3 or 1,073,741,824 bytes of RAM

Unlike binary-addressed computer main memory, however, there is nothing in a disk drive that influences it to have a total capacity easily expressed using a power of 1024. Hard disk drive manufacturers have always used the decimal system to characterize their products since as early as 1974.

Thus, a DVD marketed as having 4.7 GB capacity should literally have a storage capacity of

4.7 Gigabytes = 4.7 X 10^9 = 4,700,000,000 bytes (using the SI definition for the prefix ‘Giga’).

Why then, does a DVD after formatting show up as having only 4.38 GB capacity in Windows?

Well, the answer lies in the question here: it’s due to the Windows OS.

Specifically, the method the Windows OS uses to enumerate the number of bytes present in a certain storage medium. When Windows notifies us about the size of a certain medium, it expresses it in the binary sense, just as it does for RAM.

Thus 4.7 GB is still 4,700,000 bytes; but when converted back to the ‘Giga’ order in the binary fashion, it yields:

4,700,000,000 / (1024)3 = 4.377 GB or approx. 4.38 GB

Similarly, a 500 GB hard disk would show up as 465.66 GB or about 466 GB when looked at ‘binari-ly’.

Why this may be more of an issue in the future…

Currently, the most common order of magnitude used related to digital data storage is probably the Gigabyte.

With 1 gigabyte, the percentage difference that arises between the SI (metric/decimal) and binary versions would be:

[ {(1024)3 – (1000)3} / 10003 ] X 100 % = 7.37 %

Calculating similar differences for other orders of magnitude,

Prefix used

Order of magnitude (SI/Bin.)

%age difference


1000 (103) /1024 (210)























As time progresses, data storage capacities are burgeoning exponentially. Thus,if the ambiguity continues, the rift between the reported (binary) and actual (decimal) numbers shall continue to rise, fast.

Why has nothing been done to resolve all the confusion?

Interestingly, steps have been taken! The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) in 2000 adopted the proposal that the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) for using a new set of binary prefixes to refer to powers of 1024. The SI prefix would then unambiguously refer to powers of 1000 (i.e, the decimal sense), even when used in the context of data storage capacities.

For example, according to the new ruleset, 1 Megabyte or 1 MB would refer to 1 million (1000^3) bytes; whereas 1 Mebibyte or 1 MiB would refer to 1024^3 bytes. The ‘Me’ part is is drawn from the SI prefix for Mega, and ‘bi’ denotes the binary sense, and so on for other orders of magnitude. Here are the prefixes and symbols for the first few orders of magnitude in both the systems:

Decimal system:
10^1 = 10
10^3 = 1000 (kilo,K)
10^6 = 1000000 (mega,M)
10^9 = 1000000000 (giga,G)

2^1 = 2
2^10 = 1024 = (binary kilo; kibi,Ki)
2^20 = 1048576 (binary mega; mibi,Mi)
2^30 = 1073741824 (binary giga; gibi,Gi)

So if there is such a lucid solution, why isn’t it visible everywhere? Even though the standardization has been done and rules have been set, the IT industry and the press are yet to adopt the changes in a big way.

However, the new nomenclature is starting to appear in the EU computing industry and marketplace (as is required by a law passed in 2007) and certain US and International Government contexts.

Also, the new version of the Mac OS, the Snow Leopard 10.6 displays the capacity of any data storage device in accordance with the decimal system. Some versions of Linux are beginning to display the size properties of a disk drive in a very clear-cut manner, for example your 500 gig external HDD would show up has having a capacity of 500 GB/ 467 GiB.

Windows, however, has been showing no signs of adopting the new system or using the appropriate prefixes where necessary.

Winding up….

There have been cases lodged against disk drive manufacturers (e.g., Western Digital) stating the latter’s incorrect usage of the term mega/gigabyte; that they should be using the traditional definition of 1 MB = 1024^2 bytes instead of using 1 MB = 1 million bytes. Even though the manufacturers are technically correct (as IEEE an IEC standards define a megabyte as a million bytes), they say the same has not been adopted by the industry at large.

And then there are the multitudes who accuse Microsoft of not implementing the changes in the disk capacity nomenclature within the Windows OS. They are in favour of using, say, GiB instead of GB in reference to disk drive capacity.

So where does this argument go at the end of the day?

I’d say, the simplest solution would be for Windows to take a cue from Linux and display the size both from both the decimal and binary perspectives (in terms of both GB/MB and GiB/MiB, respectively). Other people may think of some other way. But whatever may be, something or the other should be implemented sooner rather than later.


P.S.- In Windows, the properties window of a certain disk drive displays the size in bytes along with the GB value. You can get an idea of the decimal value of the disk size this way.


Here the capacity displayed is 39 GB and 41,943,089,152 bytes; which is about 42 GB. Thus the size is 42 GB = 39 GiB.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Installing Windows 7 from a USB device

Many a time, installing windows from a DVD is not an option. This may arise if the computer in question is a netbook, most of which do not come with optical drives; or in case of a malfunctioning laptop optical drive, which is also quite common.

In such a case, a USB enabled install of the OS would be a lifesaver.

And even if a DVD-install were plausible, running the setup from a USB stick would speed up the process substantially.

This can be achieved relatively simply by using a free downloadable program called ‘Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool’, or a similar program called Win2Flash (also available as a free download).

To get started, download either of the programs from the following links:

Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool:



I’ll show how to carry out the initial steps of the install using the Windows 7 USB tool. If you use win2flash, the process is very much similar.

You’ll need a USB flash drive of at least 4 GB capacity, and the windows 7 image file (iso).

>Start up the program.

>Choose the path of the iso file.


>Select ‘USB Device’ and insert the flash drive.


>The USB device if compatible is displayed.


>After choosing the correct device, click on ‘begin copying’.

>After the copying is done, the USB device is now bootable.

>Now you can restart the system after inserting the USB device, and choose a USB boot in the startup options (by hitting F12 or some other key depending on your system) if the system does not automatically boot from the USB device.

Continue the install as you would from a DVD.



* The USB device may be a flash drive or also an external hard drive, but be careful as the program formats the device prior to copying the windows installer files onto it. In case of an external hard drive, it is always a viable option to create a separate partition of about 4 GB and then select it for the format and for copying the OS files.

* In case you don’t already have the Windows 7 iso file, you can use an iso creating application such as Nero, Infra Recorder or CDBurner XP (the latter two are freeware) to create the iso file from a Windows 7 DVD.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Welcome to my new blog

Okay, so I just shifted over to this blog from my previous one, There were two main reasons that led to this shift- for one, I wanted to get a fresh start to blogging again (my blog had remained idle for a long time); so I reckoned maybe starting afresh with a new blog might help. Also, I wanted a fresh new title and blog link (smnitb hardly sounds intriguing). So I had been scouting for a new name for quite some time. 

Today for some reason my thoughts had drifted off to chemistry (my favourite subject back at school); and somewhere in due course of time, the term 'unsaturated solution' struck me. And then it just refused to go! Then without thinking twice, I just decided to go with it as my blog's title. So here's Unsaturated Solution for you..! 

P.S.- Yeah, I know the name sounds weird...but that's precisely what I wanted it to be...offbeat and nonsensical. However, if we do try to drag sense out of it by hook or by crook, you could say it's never too full with ideas, there are always more in the waiting ('unsaturated'); and it's, well, an assortment of a variety of ramblings (the 'solution' part) :P

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Running AOE2 smoothly on Windows 7/Vista

AOE win7logo

I’ve been playing quite a bit of AOE2 of late; and one recurrent problem while running the (now dated, but still going strong) game on Windows 7 (or Vista) has been an issue with map colors. The colors on the map look muddled, grainy and ugly on 7 and Vista, kind of as if they have been inverted. After a bit of research into the issue, I finally arrived at a working solution.

No, updating the graphics driver or Direct X does not work. First, what you need to do is navigate to the ‘age2_x1.exe’ or whichever exe file is associated with the game for you, right click on it, go to the ‘Compatibility’ tab and select ‘Run in compatibility mode for Windows XP (SP2), ‘Disable Visual Themes’, ‘Disable Desktop Composition’ and ‘Disable Display Scaling on High DPI Settings’. This might just do the trick, if you’re lucky. But if you’re not, like me (which is quite a high possibility), read on.

For some people, minimizing the game just after it starts up and then maximizing it again sets the colors straight. But it didn’t for me; what worked for me instead was to open up Process Explorer with Ctrl+Alt+Del after starting the game up, ending the process ‘explorer.exe’ and switching back to the game with Alt+Tab. This did the trick, and should work for most people.

This solution can also be automated without the need for having to go through the process of terminating explorer.exe before starting the game and rerunning it each time the game ends; this can be done by creating a batch file with the instructions fed to it. To do so, create a new notepad file with the following content:

taskkill /F /IM Explorer.exe
Start explorer.exe

{if you have the regular AOE2, or)

taskkill /F /IM Explorer.exe
Start explorer.exe

{for AOE2 Expansion}

Then save it as a batch file, say ‘AOE_fixed.bat’ and then copy it to the folder where the EMPIRES2.exe or age2_x1.exe file exists. Then you may create a shortcut for the batch file on the desktop or elsewhere and then double click on it to launch the game whenever you want. Cheers :)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Opera Unite

Well I heard of Unite very recently....and actually got to use it only after installing Opera two days back. It was a long time since I'd used Opera...the last time I think when 9.6 was around...maybe it's just a mindset but I (and many others I know) never saw Opera as a default browsing option, but more like a standby to Firefox, or sometimes Chrome. But the new Opera 10.10 looks very much set to change all of feels light and zippy, and the interface is soothing and soft...for me, it's a welcome change to the sharp lines of Chrome.

The major improvement is in speed...Opera says it uses some compression algorithm or something....whatever it is, it's new Presto rendering engine seems to be more than able to rival Chrome's Webkit, Safari's Nitro and definitely Firefox' Gecko (and I should think it's customary by now to leave IE out of the discussion when browser speeds are being talked about :P)

But more than speed, what's creating waves about this new Opera launch is something called Opera Unite...a new concept that might just change the way people normally share files online. What we generally use to share files is a system called the 'client-server' architecture. What Unite does is turn your PC into a client, as well as a server; allowing you to share data across several computers without the requirement of a third-party server. 

Let me try to explain in more simple terms. Suppose you want to share a few photos with your friend. What you'd normally do, is upload your photos to a photo sharing website like Flickr, Photobucket or PicasaWeb; and then send them the link with the password. You could also e-mail the photos as attachments. But what if the photos you want to share are high-resolution, and large in number? Then e-mail sharing is out of question, as there are file size limits to attachments. Also, in the case of photo-sharing websites, you have limits to the total upload (unless you are a paid member, but even if that is the case, it is cumbersome and time-consuming to upload hundreds of megabytes of photos and especially so if you happen to have a low bandwidth connection). Or similarly if you wish to share a big file (a PSD file, RAW image, a HD video, etc), it can be quite taxing to upload it someplace and then share it. Moreover, from an Indian perspective, where ISP's  impose download/upload limits in most internet plans, it can be impossible for someone to share a considerably sized file.

It is here where Unite comes in and makes the sharing process a breeze. And it's so simple, anybody without any prior file-sharing experience could easily do it. In the client-server architecture, the files you upload are stored on a server, which is usually a high-capacity mainframe or other powerful computer with high file storage and processing capabilities. Then, the person who you want to share the file(s) with, downloads the file from the server.
But what Unite does, is that it hosts the files from your computer itself, i.e, your PC is sort of a  mini-server now! So now whoever you want to share data with can download the requisite files directly from you, instead of using any via-media. This simplifies things a lot, and is very very advantageous in the following ways...

  • You no longer need to upload the file from your computer, so if you have any limits on your uploads, you no longer need to worry...
  • You can share huge files in a fact if you wish, you can share all the contents of your computer and/or any external media; and also the contents of your local network which you have access to.
  • This way of sharing is more secure, as there is no third-party involved; the transaction takes place only between the people concerned.
But this form of file-sharing also comes with its downsides...the most significant being the need to have your computer online whenever you want to share any file(s). Also, a disruption in your internet connection would mean disruption in file transfer, so people with shaky internet connections should stay away. 
But on the whole, it's a fantastic way to share data with people, and should become very widely utilized very soon.
And by the way, owing to its nature, Unite also allows you to host your own website from your very computer. This is an exciting idea at first glance, and the idea of being able to float your website without paying the bucks to a third party for hosting seems tempting. Too good to be true? It is, to a certain degree. But the prospect of keeping yourself online all the time isn't very appealing or plausible. Anyhow, it could be a great starting platform for budding web designers without the cash to splurge on a web domain.

Do download and try out the new Opera; and give Unite a spin too!

To download Opera, go to

And to visit Opera Unite's homepage, click below

To get started using Unite, here's the official video