Our Data in NES Cartridges

Here at STAPLEGUN, we currently have 106 terabytes of data spread out across our archived and live servers. If you're unfamiliar with how much that is, a single terabyte is 1,000,000,000,000 bytes of data (if you want to go even further down the rabbit hole, a single byte is 8 bits – with a bit representing a single 0 or 1 – but I digress). That's a lot of data.

Here in the interactive department, we're a bunch of nerds – and we're proud of that. In an era where we deal with images that span multiple megabytes and smart phone apps that have reached gigabytes, there's a random tidbit of knowledge we often throw around to put those massive sizes into perspective: the original Super Mario Bros. game that came out for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) back in 1985 fit on a 256 kilobit cartridge. That's kilobits, and if you remember from above how bytes translate into bits, that's just 32 measly kilobytes. 32. Kilobytes. For an entire video game that created countless of hours of fun for us all back in the day.

We started comparing our massive data size with the tiny size of Super Mario Bros., and brought up the question of how many of those cartridges it would take to hold all of our data. We started guess-timating that it would fill up an entire office room, and then increased that to an entire floor, and then continued to increase it to multiple floors – until we finally decided to bust out our trusty calculator to really put an answer together. Get ready – it's about to get math-y (if you want to skip all the hardcore calculations, jump to the Results section).

How Many Cartridges

NES cartridges can vary in size, anywhere from 8 kilobytes to about a megabyte. For this demonstration, we're going to use cartridges that are the same size as Super Mario Bros. – which is 32 kilobytes.

It's simple division to calculate how many cartridges we would need to fit all of our data. We find a common unit (we'll use bytes), and bring both our data and the cartridge size down to that unit. That's 106,000,000,000,000 bytes of data divided by 32,000 bytes on the cartridge.

106,000,000,000,000 / 32,000 = 3,312,500,000 cartridges

It would take 3,312,500,000 (in layman's terms, that's over 3 billion) cartridges to fit all of our data. That number's too high to truly fathom – so we're gonna keep going and break that down into actual physical dimensions.

How Big (More Math)

An NES Cartridge has physical dimensions of 4.75 in. x 5.25 in. x .75 in. Following middle school math principles, we find the volume of a rectangular prism (i.e., the NES cartridge) by multiplying length, width and height together.

4.75 in. * 5.25 in. * .75 in. = 18.7 in.3 (slightly rounded)

That's inches cubed, since we're talking about volume now. Okay, so for one cartridge that's not too big – but let's multiply that by the billions of cartridges that we'd need to store our data:

18.7 in.3 * 3,312,500,000 = 61,943,750,000 in.3

That's a massive number that represents the total volume of all of the cartridges – but that doesn't mean anything to us. We want to know how big of an area all of those cartridges would take up. To get that number (I promise, this is our final step), we have to cube root it:

61,943,750,000 in.3 = 3956.69 in.

This breaks down to a cube that's about 330 ft. on each side.


All in all, to fit all of our 106 terabytes of data on NES cartridges the size of Super Mario Bros., it would take 3,312,500,000 NES cartridges which would fill up a cube with the dimensions of 330 ft. x 330 ft. x 330 ft. That's more than an entire football field in length. And width. And height – all filled to the brim with NES cartridges! You could easily fit 100 houses in that space, and probably a few massive corporate buildings too! That's just mind-blowing.

All that data sits on a few different drives here at STAPLEGUN that take up no more than a desk's space. It's amazing how data has changed just in the past few decades. The next time you're trying to send that email attachment that's over 20 megabytes, and Outlook is throwing a fit – just remember how good you have it. None of what we do today would be possible without these types of technological advancements.

Going Further

Maybe you weren't a gamer growing up, and NES cartridges don't mean anything to you. But I bet you've at least heard of good ol' floppy disks (both 3.5 in. and 5.25 in.), and have most likely used CDs and DVDs before – so we want to keep breaking down our data into how many of each of these respective units it would take to hold it all. Don't worry, no more math. You're in a safe zone.

Just a note – all of the following storage types are much thinner than an NES cartridge, so we won't be measuring a cube size of units like we did above; instead, we're just gonna calculate the height of them all if you were to stack them up on one another:

Storage TypeMax SizeNumber of UnitsStack Height
5.25 in. Floppy Disk 1.2 Megabytes  88,333,334  463,692 ft.
3.5 in. Floppy Disk 1.44 Megabytes  73,611,112  796,970 ft.
CD 700 Megabytes  151,429  597 ft.
DVD (Single Layer) 4.7 Gigabytes  22,554  89 ft.

These are some massive stacks. If you're a nerd like us, then you might find it fun to learn about the history of data storage. Luckily for developers today, application size isn't as big of a deal as it once was – and trust me, it used to be a very big deal. For example, to fit the game in 32 kilobytes, the developers of Super Mario Bros. had to use some pretty neat tricks like using the same sprites to make both the clouds and the bushes (albeit different colors).

Photo Credit: http://www.warpedfactor.com/2015/01/10-things-you-might-not-know-about_21.html

Photo Credit: 10 Things You Might Not Know about Super Mario Bros.