Why Computers Use Binary
Binary numbers – seen as strings of 0's and 1's – are often associated with computers. But why is this? Why can't computers just use base 10 instead of converting to and from binary? Isn't it more efficient to use a higher base, since binary (base 2) representation uses up more "spaces"?
I was recently asked this question by someone who knows a good deal about computers. But this question is also often asked by people who aren't so tech-savvy. Either way, the answer is quite simple.
A modern-day "digital" computer, as opposed to an older "analog" computer, operates on the principle of two possible states of something – "on" and "off". This directly corresponds to there either being an electrical current present, or said electrical current being absent. The "on" state is assigned the value "1", while the "off" state is assigned the value "0".
The term "binary" implies "two". Thus, the binary number system is a system of numbers based on two possible digits – 0 and 1. This is where the strings of binary digits come in. Each binary digit, or "bit", is a single 0 or 1, which directly corresponds to a single "switch" in a circuit. Add enough of these "switches" together, and you can represent more numbers. So instead of 1 digit, you end up with 8 to make a byte. (A byte, the basic unit of storage, is simply defined as 8 bits; the well-known kilobytes, megabytes, and gigabytes are derived from the byte, and each is 1,024 times as big as the other. There is a 1024-fold difference as opposed to a 1000-fold difference because 1024 is a power of 2 but 1000 is not.)...