Why does a byte consist of #8# bits?

1 Answer
May 3, 2016

See explanation...


For historical reasons.

Before microprocessors, some of the earliest Arithmetic Logic Units (ALU's) - the chips that performed basic operations on binary numbers - were capable of handling 4 bit quantities at a time, known as a nybble.

Some of the earliest microprocessors (e.g. 4004) were also 4 bit processors.

The 4 bit ALU's tended to be combined to handle larger quantities, hence 8 bit bytes, 16 bit words, 32 bit double words, etc.

There were some exceptions, such as the General Electric GE-600 mainframes, which had a 36 bit word. This supported both 6-bit and 9-bit bytes.