Low Bandwidth Web Surfing

Measuring the Megabytes

Ok, with the jargon out of the way, let’s get down to the basic concept of keeping track of your data quota.  Everything that you do on the Internet uses up your megabytes.  How do you tell how much you have been using?  Well, if you are running Windows, there is a handy tool that helps you keep track, but it’s not perfect, and it doesn’t always measure against your remaining balance, instead measuring based on days and months.  Besides that, even if you do know exactly how many megabytes you have left, you will always want to stretch them as far as you can.

The easiest item to be sure of when dealing with megabytes are files sitting on your computer.  Why would you ever put those on the Internet? Well, maybe you will want to email reports out, or more likely, send pictures to a photo sharing site.  Or maybe swap music with friends back home.  All of this will use megabytes, so let’s put things in perspective:

  • Music – song files vary in size depending on two major factors: song length and what is know as encoding.  A good rule of thumb is that for an average mp3-encoded song, it takes about 1 MB per minute of the song.  You can always check the size of the file by right clicking on it and either looking at its “Properties,” under Windows, or “Get Info,” under Macintosh.  The same rules apply if you are receiving the file as well.  It does not matter if you are sending or receiving information, it all detracts from your megabyte balance.
  • Documents – Documents are usually very small, on the order of kilobytes, not megabytes.  A typical Word document is about 20 KB.  Factors that can change file size here are the length of the document and whether or not it includes pictures.  Pictures can be tricky because most word processors will not resize the picture file size, even if you shrink the picture in the document itself.  So make sure you also know the size of the picture files that may be included in the document.  PDF documents also tend to be larger than a normal Word document, mostly because many PDF users do not know how to properly adjust settings to prevent their files from bloating out.  Our lovely employer, the US government, oftentimes sends out unnecessarily bloated PDFs chewing up precious megabytes.
  • Pictures– Pictures very in size much more so than either music files or documents.  This is because pictures are often taken in so many different ways.  The two most contributing factors to a picture file’s size is the pictures initial Quality setting and its resolution.  Both of these settings can be changed on your camera, and while I suggest taking pictures of the highest quality and resolution on the camera, I also suggest reducing their size before shipping them over your connection.  Some picture files can easily be 10 or 12 MB, and if you are shooting RAW (I’m looking at you DSLR folks over there), your photos shoot up to the 20 to 30 MB range.  Say goodbye to your bandwidth if you are not careful with your pictures.
  • Movies- I’ll be honest, here’s the breakdown: “half-hour,” television is about 180 MB, “Hour television,” is about 360 MB.  A Hollywood movie is anywhere from 700 MB to 900 MB.
  • Streaming Video– You may have to kick your Youtube addiction or at least strictly limit it over here.  It helps that oftentimes connection speeds are too slow to make youtube practical anyway, but streaming video can chew up your bandwidth just as quickly as sending pictures.  A standard youtube can easily be anwhere from 5 to 10 MB and before you know it, watching all of your favorite TV shows has chewed up your bandwidth compeletly.
  • Streaming Audio- This means Skype ladies and gentlemen.  This is my weakest area of information.  The last time I Skyped while monitoring bandwidth, I believe it came in at a little less than 1 MB per minute.  Take it or leave it.  Throw in video chat however, and you are starting to look at 5 MB per minute, and maybe more.  But again, I haven’t tested this in a while, and unless someone cares to fund the experimentation, cannot afford to do so as of writing this.  Anyone with metrics, please feel free to comment.

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