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In Computing, what is a Nibble?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 17, 2024
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Although computer files are not on paper and do not make piles on one’s desk, they do take up space on one’s hard drive. There are times when knowing the size of a file, a folder, a software application, or a drive or storage device is important, and digital units of measure are the way these measurements are given. Nibble, also spelled nybble, is one of the digital units of measurement.

Hearing a conversation about the smallest of the digital units, one might easily mistake it for a conversation about small amounts of food. The smallest units are a bit, a nibble, and a byte, which is pronounced exactly like bite. The bit is the basic reference and it refers to the smallest unit of information that a computer understands. A byte is eight bits. A nibble is four bits and is also called “half a byte,” making a pun with the food-related use of nibble meaning “a very small quantity of food” and bite meaning “one mouthful of food.”

The byte, also equal to two nibbles, is the unit on which the more familiar of the larger units are based. There are also units based on bits. A kilobit is 1024 bits or 256 nibbles, while a kilobyte is 1024 bytes or 2048 nibbles. A megabit is 1024 kilobits or 262144 nibbles, while a megabyte is 1024 kilobytes or 2097152 nibbles. Looked at from the perspective of a nibble, a nibble is equal to ½ byte 4/1024 kilobits, 1/2048 kilobytes, 4/1048576 megabits, or 1/2097152 megabytes.

A nibble may also be called a “four-bit byte” or a “quartet.” There are 16 possible values for a this measurement, but there is no standard abbreviation. The term nibble is also used in the phrase nibble mode memory. Nibble mode memory refers to a specific type of RAM for which the output is a nibble, or four consecutive bits, at once.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for WiseGeek, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By Terrificli — On Nov 10, 2014

@Vincenzo -- It might not mean much to the average cat, but I do believe programmers still use that term a bit. I'm talking about the programmers who deal with assembly language and other brainy languages that use hexadecimal numbering systems to keep up with things.

Don't quote me on that, of course, but I do believe there is still a big demand for knowledge of nibble among certain programmers. Heck, there's still a use for bits, so why not nibbles?

By Vincenzo — On Nov 10, 2014

Nibble, huh? There's a term I haven't heard in years. It seems that was tossed around a bit in the 1980s when computers were becoming common, but the term seems to have become pretty obscure over the years. That may be because memory it typically measured in units that are so huge that the very small nibble is a unit of measurement that doesn't mean a whole lot.

I mean, a megabyte is 2,097,152 nibbles. Does a number that large mean much to us?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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