Western Digital gets blugeoned with a class-action lawsuit

2006-07-05 12:23 by Ian

I hate bad class-action law suits.
The idea is nice, because it saves time (and therefore money) when large groups of plaintiffs have a legit gripe with a single defendant.
Western Digital just gave into a CAS (class-action suit) because consumers and lawyers don’t understand how computers work.

When someone tells you that a given file is 1GB in size, they mean that the file is 1,000,000,000 bytes. Even. One giga is one-billion. End of story. The confusion arises when technically literate people develop misleading short-handed ways of expressing the size of memory chunks.
Let me illustrate what I mean…

When you walk into Fry’s Electronics and purchase 1GB of memory, you are ACTUALLY buying 230 bytes of memory.
230 = 1,073,741,824.

If you buy a (very old) hard drive that is 1GB. you are buying 1 × 109 bytes of hard drive space.
109 = 1,000,000,000.

So we seem to have two separate definitions for 1GB, with one definition being about 74MB larger. But what lawyers fail to see, is that the larger definition is inaccurate. Here is why…

Computers do not operate on a “base-10” (commonly called decimal) radix. They operate on a “base-2” (binary) system.
There is no difference between these systems except in the way that they are expressed. Meaning…
The decimal number 53 is the SAME VALUE as the binary number 110101.
It is just a different way of writing the same number.

So 1GB = 1,000,000,000 bytes in decimal and is also equal to
111011100110101100101000000000 bytes in binary, and
3B9A CA00 in hexadecimal (base-16, a short-hand way of writing binary).

Computer people often talk about the base-2 size of data in terms of their nearest decimal place-values, because it makes more sense much of the time. We would rather say…
“1GB of RAM”
as opposed to
“two to the thirty’th bytes of RAM”.

Ask a computer person how much memory and hard drive space he has. He might say:
“1GB of RAM, and 250GB of hard drive.”
By responding this way, he has assumed that the party asking for these numbers knows that he REALLY means:
“230 bytes of memory and 250 billion bytes of hard drive.”
One value is given in base-2, and one is left as decimal. Since 230 is so close to 1GB, this assumption is usually fine.
Unless you are talking to a lawyer who is planning to sue a hard drive manufacturer.

By suing Western Digital on the grounds that they are screwing people out of 74MB per 1GB advertised, the prosecution is displaying great ignorance of the numerical conventions that permeate the computer industry. And now we have paid for it.