The byte is a unit of digital information that most commonly consists of eight bits, representing a binary number. Historically, the byte was the number of bits used to encode a single character of text in a computer and for this reason it is the smallest addressable unit of memory in many computer architectures.
The size of the byte has historically been hardware dependent and no definitive standards existed that mandated the size – byte-sizes from 1 to 48 bits are known to have been used in the past. Early character encoding systems often used six bits, and machines using six-bit and nine-bit bytes were common into the 1960s. These machines most commonly had memory words of 12, 24, 36, 48 or 60 bits, corresponding to two, four, six, eight or 10 six-bit bytes. In this era, bytes in the instruction stream were often referred to as syllables, before the term byte became common.
Despite standardization efforts, ambiguity still exists in the meanings of the SI (or metric) prefixes used with the unit byte, especially concerning the prefixes kilo (k or K), mega (M), and giga (G). Computer memory has a binary architecture in which multiples are expressed in powers of 2. In some fields of the software and computer hardware industries a binary prefix is used for bytes and bits, while producers of computer storage devices practice adherence to decimal SI multiples. For example, a computer disk drive capacity of 100 gigabytes is specified when the disk contains 100 billion bytes (93 gibibytes) of storage space.
While the numerical difference between the decimal and binary interpretations is relatively small for the prefixes kilo and mega, it grows to over 20% for prefix yotta.
Source : Wikipédia.org