From all the hard drives I have bought, they never seem to be as large as the advertised price; from 320GB down to 290GB, from 500GB down to 450GB, etc. Is there a technical reason for this?
The technical reason is that the hard drive manufacturers sell you capacities in metric units. So a GB = 1,000,000,000 bytes by the metric system. However, computers measure the drive size in powers of 2. So 1GiB = 1,024MiB, 1MiB = 1,024KiB, etc. What this means is that 1GiB = 1,073,741,824 bytes, a difference of 73,741,824.
So when you install your 1GB (for the sake of example) drive, the OS only sees 0.93GiB, and this is the cause of the discrepancy.
(If you've never seen the abbreviation GiB before, it's a new notation adopted to denote powers of 1024 as opposed to 1000. However, most operating systems will report GiB as GB, confusing this issue even further)
It's because hardware vendors are not selling 4GB but 4 000 000 000 bytes.
4 000 000 000 / (1024^3) = 3.72 GB.
Same story with hard drive disks.
When a drive manufacturer creates a 500 GB capacity drive, it does have a capacity of 500,000,000,000 bytes, and they are sure going to advertise it as such. Computers, being binary devices, prefer powers of two, with a different set of prefixes, so that is what they use for storage space measurement:
1 kibibyte = 2^10, 1 mebibyte = 2^20, 1 gibibyte = 2^30, etc.
For instance, I have a 300 GB drive attached to this machine and Windows displays the following for the capacity:
300,082,855,936 / 2^30 = ~279. What it is actually showing you is the drive's size in gibibytes, not gigabytes. So, it should read:
One might say this is a flaw in Windows, but apparently there is no definitive standard for storage capacity prefix meanings. Lots more good info, including a section on "Consumer confusion", in this Wikipedia article.
See this article for an explanation.
Basically, there are two definitions of a "gigabyte". One definition is that 1GB = 10243 bytes. This is the definition that the computer reports (for technical reasons).
The other definition (from SI units) is that 1GB = 10003 bytes. This is the same as every other metric unit ( 1 gigameter = 10003 meters).
Since the metric definition of a gigabyte is less than what the computer considers a gigabyte, hard drive manufacturers use the metric definition because they can print a larger capacity on the box.
A small amount of space is also used by the file system itself, but most of the missing capacity is from the definition of a gigabyte.
Originally this was the answer to this question (merged) about 4GB pen drive.
Let's we start from the statement:
"Human system is based on power of 10, binary on on power of 2"
The metric prefixes are power of 10, 1000 or 10^3 is k, 10^6 is M, 10^9 G...
Vendors and Law: Vendors behave following market's rules, when laws do not force them to do otherwise. 4 sells better then 3.78. For the same reasons the internet providers often speak about bps and let you understand Bps. There is a factor 8: a Byte(B) is 8 bits(b).
The problem is that the laws exist, but not in all the nations are the same.
The International System, or SI, is the most widely used in the world for commerce and science (It was published in 1960 and at present are partially out only USA that is adopting, Burma and Liberia).
Since it is natural in the computer world the use of a numeric base in power of 2 (and not 10 as in human world) it was introduced in 1998 the system of the binary prefixes. Here directly the table. Nowadays we find in the situation that
When you read
Why still should be and not is? Because it depends from how the legislator of the nation in which is produced the item and the legislator of the nation in which the item is imported adopt and transform in law the directive of the international commissions.
So keep your eyes well open.
(Even because in several nations it is prescribed to write the informations to fulfill the duties of law on an adhesive label. Usually it is so little than you really need to keep well open your eyes to read read it)
They actually usually are as large as they are advertised, but:
May be other reasons too, but those are the major ones I know about
In the old days of computers every calculation was expensive (in the performance sense). Programmers used all kind of shortcuts to do as little calculations as possible. One of those tricks was to store the year part of a date as only two digits, which ultimately led to the y2k problem. Another trick was that they defined 1k (kilo) to not mean 1000 as everyone else in the civilised world did, but to mean 1024 instead. This allowed them to cut a few corners when doing size calculations. That habit stuck and is still being used today although computer calculations have become so much cheaper.
The hardware manufacturer is giving you the proper size where K=1000, M=1000000 and G=1000000000. It's the software that's giving you false values.
Software manufacturers are changing their habits nowadays. OSX for example shows the proper size.
Because in technical terms 1Gb = 1024Mb (1,073,741,824 bytes), but in marketing terms 1Gb is 1,000,000,000 bytes.
That, and you lose some space with stuff like allocation tables, boot records and stuff.