Author Topic: Is the Byte obsolete?  (Read 2326 times)

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Offline Connecteur

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Is the Byte obsolete?
« on: July 17, 2021, 06:10:26 pm »
Memory and processing are still expressed in bytes (kilobytes, megabytes etc.)  but how useful is an 8-bit word nowadays?  It gives us 256 data states, but most applications nowadays require more.  Are there names for 16-bit, 32-bit and 64-bit words?
 

Offline Monkeh

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2021, 06:29:53 pm »
Let us from now on describe memory sizes in kibilonglongs.
 
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Online ataradov

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #2 on: July 17, 2021, 06:31:07 pm »
Half word, word and double word are commonly used names for 16-, 32- and 64-bit quantities. And quad word for 128 bits. So we are covered for quite some time.

This is a really strange question. No, byte is not obsolete, since there is still a lot of stuff that is designed around 8-bit bytes.
« Last Edit: July 17, 2021, 06:33:04 pm by ataradov »
Alex
 

Online SiliconWizard

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #3 on: July 17, 2021, 07:11:14 pm »
Not being able to address bytes - at least remotely efficiently since you coud always do this using bitwise operations - would be a real pain in many applications.
 

Offline David Hess

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #4 on: July 17, 2021, 07:13:36 pm »
"Word" used to be the natural operand size for the CPU whether that was 8, 9, 16, 18, or whatever bits.  It only became synonymous with 16 bits after x86 became so popular, and it remained 16 bits instead of being changed to 32 or 64 bits on x86 for backwards compatibility.

As far as bytes, they are still used for character data.
 

Offline Gyro

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #5 on: July 17, 2021, 07:46:19 pm »
Quote
Is the Byte obsolete?

4E 6F 21
Regards, Chris

"Victor Meldrew, the Crimson Avenger!"
 
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Online Bud

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #6 on: July 17, 2021, 07:55:55 pm »
@OP this may be a shock to you but not only Byte but also Bit is still used. Tell me how efficient you can code True or False state in your 64-bit ( no pun intended)  variable.
Facebook-free life and Rigol-free shack.
 

Online TimFox

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #7 on: July 17, 2021, 08:04:00 pm »
The digital "word" has always had a variable length, depending on the equipment, and was not always an integer number of 8-bit bytes.
Why re-define the only stable nomenclature in sight, just because it is not as big as that with an unstable nomenclature?
 

Offline coppice

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #8 on: July 17, 2021, 08:25:41 pm »
Now that the vast majority of text has settled down to being in UTF-8 I guess the byte will be relevant for a very very long time.
 

Online brucehoult

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #9 on: July 18, 2021, 02:59:24 am »
Memory and processing are still expressed in bytes (kilobytes, megabytes etc.)  but how useful is an 8-bit word nowadays?  It gives us 256 data states, but most applications nowadays require more.  Are there names for 16-bit, 32-bit and 64-bit words?

No.

An 8 bit byte is a very useful size for storing reasonable fidelity text, audio, and greyscale images (or RGBA or CMYK components of colour). Some applications need more, but many don't. UTF-8 is a good solution for text forever.

Using word addresses instead of byte addresses severely complicates accessing byte values. It becomes necessary to pass around both a word base address and a byte offset.

Non power of two word sizes are a non-starter for modern machines because at least masking and shifting are cheap, but div and mod of weird values such as 36 by 8 is and always will be expensive. You're faced with either storing just 4 chars in each word (wasting 11% of the space), or splitting chars between words, or using 9 bit chars (which will upset modern software, and also waste 11% of the storage).

Word addressing only made sense when

1) computers were used primarily for numerical processing (whether integer or FP) with very little use of text, and

2) registers and ALUs were so small that it made a significant difference whether you could address N bytes or N words of RAM.

In the history of 32 bit computers -- starting from the IBM S/360 in the early 1960s -- there has only been a brief period when anyone cared whether the amount of memory a program could address was 4 GB or 16 GB. Moving to 64 bits was coming sooner or later anyway, and in any given application area the difference between running out of 2^32 bytes and running out of 2^32 32 bit words is only about three or four years -- roughly 1995 in workstations, 2005 in PCs, and 2015 in smartphones (with the pioneers 2 or 3 years earlier in each case).

64 bit byte addresses should be enough for at least 50 years in most applications, quite possibly 100 or more.
 

Online brucehoult

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #10 on: July 18, 2021, 03:26:03 am »
In the history of 32 bit computers -- starting from the IBM S/360 in the early 1960s -- there has only been a brief period when anyone cared whether the amount of memory a program could address was 4 GB or 16 GB. Moving to 64 bits was coming sooner or later anyway, and in any given application area the difference between running out of 2^32 bytes and running out of 2^32 32 bit words is only about three or four years -- roughly 1995 in workstations, 2005 in PCs, and 2015 in smartphones (with the pioneers 2 or 3 years earlier in each case).

A little bit of data in this. Intel introduced PAE with the Pentium Pro in 1995. This extended total system memory (but not an individual application) from 32 bits to 36 bits (i.e. 16x more). This lasted until AMD introduced the Opteron/Athlon64 in 2003 -- eight years.

Intel had no intention of ever further expanding the x86 supported RAM, or allowing more than 4 GB in a single program. If Sir requires more memory, may I direct Sir's attention to our fine line of Itanic processors that AMD doesn't have a license for?
 
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Offline GlennSprigg

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #11 on: July 18, 2021, 10:46:44 am »
Many years ago, I laughed, when finding out that 1/2 a Byte was 'cutely' called a Nybble   :-DD
Diagonal of 1x1 square = Root-2. Ok.
Diagonal of 1x1x1 cube = Root-3 !!!  Beautiful !!
 

Offline Gyro

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #12 on: July 18, 2021, 10:55:41 am »
Nibble
Regards, Chris

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Offline GlennSprigg

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #13 on: July 18, 2021, 11:07:38 am »
Ok...  I've seen it written with a 'Y' too, to match the 'Y' in Byte...
Diagonal of 1x1 square = Root-2. Ok.
Diagonal of 1x1x1 cube = Root-3 !!!  Beautiful !!
 

Offline Siwastaja

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #14 on: July 18, 2021, 11:43:49 am »
Very very widely used to signify the amount of red, green or blue light in a pixel. Used in 99.99999% of images and videos on the web and otherwise. Yes, for really high image quality, high dynamic range stuff, it's a on the low side and 10-bit display formats are in use instead, but 256 levels is enough for most cases and there appears to be no general or widespread shift towards higher bit depths in the near future.

Anything large, high-bandwidth requires optimization of storage size and any arbitrary bit counts are used, it's not odd all to see some value stored in, for example, 3 bits if the expected range is 0..7. Byte (8 bits) is more convenient and efficient as fewer instructions are required to extract and use the value than, say, with 3-bit value fields. But most of the performance penalty comes from memory access so if you can squeeze more into memory, you save time even if your CPU needs to do some bit shifting and masking.

And yes, half a byte (4 bits) is a nibble, this isn't some esoteric funny joke but a normal, widely used term, you can find it in instruction set manuals for example whenever they have instructions like "swap nibbles".
« Last Edit: July 18, 2021, 11:48:25 am by Siwastaja »
 

Offline GlennSprigg

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #15 on: July 18, 2021, 12:29:18 pm »

And yes, half a byte (4 bits) is a nibble, this isn't some esoteric funny joke but a normal, widely used term, you can find it in instruction set manuals for example whenever they have instructions like "swap nibbles".

I know that it's a real word in the computing world...   :)
I just think it's 'cute', because a 'Byte' sounds like 'Bite'   ;D
Diagonal of 1x1 square = Root-2. Ok.
Diagonal of 1x1x1 cube = Root-3 !!!  Beautiful !!
 

Offline Gyro

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #16 on: July 18, 2021, 12:42:09 pm »
The apparent explanation from Wikipedia...

Quote
The term byte was coined by Werner Buchholz in June 1956,[4][13][14b] during the early design phase for the IBM Stretch[15][16][1][13][14][17][18] computer, which had addressing to the bit and variable field length (VFL) instructions with a byte size encoded in the instruction.[13] It is a deliberate respelling of bite to avoid accidental mutation to bit.[1][13][19][c]
...
« Last Edit: July 18, 2021, 12:50:56 pm by Gyro »
Regards, Chris

"Victor Meldrew, the Crimson Avenger!"
 

Offline PKTKS

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #17 on: July 18, 2021, 12:53:54 pm »
Hilarious question   ^-^ :-DD

42 59 54 45

RS232 is still defacto a wide industry standard
wo any sort of short vanishing any time sooner...

Paul
 

Offline coppice

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #18 on: July 18, 2021, 06:46:03 pm »
Very very widely used to signify the amount of red, green or blue light in a pixel.
Most video is moving to at least 10 bits per colour, so that may not be true for long. It might be the pixels change from linear to a pseudo-log format, and shrink back to 8 bits while in storage, but I think the jury is still out on that one.
 

Online DiTBho

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #19 on: July 20, 2021, 02:13:35 pm »
the basic unit should be one nibble (half byte, 4bit), so you can comfortably use an hex-contraves  ;D

[attachimg=1]
 

Offline Siwastaja

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #20 on: July 20, 2021, 02:22:44 pm »
RS232 is still defacto a wide industry standard
wo any sort of short vanishing any time sooner...

In case you haven't noticed, RS232 has almost vanished during last 20 years. Well not quite, but it's quite a rarity today. It was widely used for computer peripherals, later in special configuration/access ports of embedded devices.

Today, you often find logic-level serial ports instead in devices, eliminating unnecessary level conversion ICs that sit mostly unused, because such ports are fine with the signal integrity of single-ended 3V3 or 5V CMOS logic, and after all, RS232 isn't that robust, in the end. Where good signal integrity is required, RS422/485 is used, and it hasn't diminished like RS232 has.

You can still find it in some newly manufactured measurement instruments, but isolated interfaces are better there, as well.
 

Offline Siwastaja

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #21 on: July 20, 2021, 02:27:08 pm »
Most video is moving to at least 10 bits per colour, so that may not be true for long. It might be the pixels change from linear to a pseudo-log format, and shrink back to 8 bits while in storage, but I think the jury is still out on that one.

Pixels already are in kind of "pseudo-log" format, have always been. This is called "gamma correction" and although its existence had another historical reason not valid anymore, it happened to have the side effect of making 8 bits suffice significantly better than in linear representation, roughly corresponding to 10 bits linear.

You may be right that majority of new video transitions into 10 bits in the near future. This is because video compression is rapidly changing technology anyway; because the huge bandwidth requirement warrants technical improvements in compression technology, you can at the same time do other improvements as well.

Still images we look at on the computer screen are pretty much still jpg and png and in 8 bits per channel.
« Last Edit: July 20, 2021, 02:30:50 pm by Siwastaja »
 

Offline PKTKS

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #22 on: July 20, 2021, 02:34:47 pm »
RS232 is still defacto a wide industry standard
wo any sort of short vanishing any time sooner...

In case you haven't noticed, RS232 has almost vanished during last 20 years. Well not quite, but it's quite a rarity today. It was widely used for computer peripherals, later in special configuration/access ports of embedded devices.



Nah I sure did notice... actually I have been "collecting" these
small USB dongles and converters since then..

I have a FULL BOX about 10 inches wide to store them..

Any crappy USB serial gizmo needs a F*K dongle...

and still some of my DMM require an RS232 old school COM port..

WTF  they did with these USB  :palm:

Paul
 

Online SiliconWizard

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #23 on: July 20, 2021, 07:00:54 pm »
Memory and processing are still expressed in bytes (kilobytes, megabytes etc.)  but how useful is an 8-bit word nowadays?  It gives us 256 data states, but most applications nowadays require more.  Are there names for 16-bit, 32-bit and 64-bit words?

No.

An 8 bit byte is a very useful size for storing reasonable fidelity text, audio, and greyscale images (or RGBA or CMYK components of colour). Some applications need more, but many don't. UTF-8 is a good solution for text forever.

That's just the point. It's the most useful granularity we have found so far for handling general data.
The way we need to see it IMHO is just this: granularity.

People "advocating" increasing this granularity should really ask themselves what the implications would be. They probably have not thought this through.

As to the "general-purpose word widths" being anything else than powers of two, this is something I remember we discussed a while ago. Non-power-of-two widths cause various issues that are not worth the trouble for general-purpose computing.
 

Offline AaronLee

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Re: Is the Byte obsolete?
« Reply #24 on: July 21, 2021, 12:27:44 am »
There are still MCUs commonly used which are very memory limited, and necessarily so due to cost constraints. I regularly design stuff to be mass produced where saving just a few cents per unit of the production cost can be quite significant. In these cases, memory optimization is often mandatory, and 8-bit bytes must be used, or sometimes even separate bits in the byte defined for different usage. If I'm writing a PC App with gigabytes of available memory, I don't care if a simple variable is using 8, 16, or 32 bits. I generally just use an int or unsigned int and forget about it. When it's a MCU with only a few kilobytes of RAM, I need to be mindful of what the maximum values will be and use the appropriate bit size.
 


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