In the most general sense, data refers to a collection of individual values that, when processed, convey information. Computer data is information that is stored and processed digitally on a computer. Data on a computer can take many forms, including text, images, audio, or video. It may be loaded into memory and processed by the computer's CPU, then stored as files in folders on a hard drive or solid-state drive.

Data on a computer is stored as binary data, where every file consists of a series of 1s and 0s called bits. 8 bits make up one byte, which is the basic unit of data storage. Data is encoded using different methods for different data types. For example, text data is stored using a character encoding method like ASCII or Unicode where each letter is represented by a single byte or series of bytes. Image data, meanwhile, is stored by assigning each pixel in a grid a color value using as few as 8 or as many as 32 bits per pixel.

Computers can store data on many different kinds of storage devices. Hard drives and solid-state drives are the most common ways to store data on a computer. Flash drives can easily transfer data from one computer to another. Computers with optical drives can burn data to (re)writable CDs and DVDs. Network-connected computers can transfer data from one computer to another over a local network or the Internet. Reading or transferring digital data does not cause any deterioration or quality loss over time.

Updated December 13, 2022 by Brian P.

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