Data rate is a technical term that describes how quickly information can be exchanged between electronic devices. In many cases, this term is used to describe Internet connection speeds and how quickly a consumer can upload or download files. Hardware components like hard drives, memory, and video cards also deal with data rate since they process information, but so do electronic items like televisions, video games, and radios. By using a calculation for this rate, manufacturers are also able to measure the efficiency of their products and classify them into categories.
Internet connections are measured in terms of data rate. A 56k dial-up modem, for example, can receive a maximum of 56 kilobits per second when it is properly installed. Information is sent in small chunks of data called packets, and since it may travel thousands of miles or kilometers through various telephone lines, there is never a 100-percent optimization. When the speeds increase in the case of a cable or a digital subscriber line (DSL) modem, the packet losses are even greater. While a term like 3 gigabytes (3G) would refer to the maximum possible speed, data rate refers to the actual performance rates.
Almost every aspect of the Internet deals with data-related rates in one form or another. Website builders optimize web layouts so that the pages can load quickly when a consumer clicks on a link, and larger websites require almost constant attention. For example, if a person was the only one visiting a web address, then the page may load instantly. When thousands of people click that particular link, then the rate of incoming data must be optimized for it. This helps businesses decide what kind of graphics to use online, how to host their websites, and the amount of bandwidth that needs to be allocated.
Computers and electronics also measure data rates in other ways. A computer hard drive can normally send information to the processor in milliseconds, but other programs running in the background could drastically reduce the response time. Graphic cards are also heavily dependent on data rate in order to deliver the proper images in games and movies. In many cases, hundreds of frames per second (FPS) are delivered to the monitor and when the rate drops, the image becomes blurred or distorted. Memory cards also have a large factor on a computer's overall data rate since they deliver information from one hardware item to another.