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Whole Number Exponents

Distinguish bases and powers.

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Memory Matters

Credit: Chris Sinjakli
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrissinjo/5368405044/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

How much memory does your phone have? How big is your USB drive? How much RAM is in your laptop? For most devices, that number is a power of two. The computing world revolves around powers of 2. The earliest video game systems boasted 8-bit graphics. That’s 23. You can by a 16-, 32-, or 64-gigabyte flash drive. Why are powers of 2 so important?

Binary Logic

The circuit boards of every computer, smart phone, or gaming system is comprised of tiny switches. Each switch can either be on or off. Programmers use a number system called binary to describe these switches. When a switch is off, it is represented by a 0. When the switch is on, it is represented by a 1. The binary system is built around powers of 2. The number 1 in binary denotes 20, which is equal to 1. 10 in binary means 21, or 2. 100 in binary signifies 22, or 4.

Credit: Dan4th
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dan4th/301092024/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

When we talk about how much memory something has, we’re really talking about how many switches it contains. So, an 8-bit gaming system had 8 switches for graphics. Your 16-gigabyte hard drive holds 137,438,953,472 bits of information. Your phone is more powerful than the computers used by scientists in the 1980s.

See for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dnd28lQHquU

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Watch the video below for a look into the history of video game consoles through commercials from the 1970s and 80s. Then answer the following question.


How were video game systems different when they had less memory?

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  1. [1]^ Credit: Chris Sinjakli; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrissinjo/5368405044/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Dan4th; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dan4th/301092024/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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