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Happy Birthday Hard Disks!

on September 4 | by | in

Can you believe that magnetic hard disks are 57 years old today? Well actually they are a bit older than that including R&D but in production usage hard disks are 57 years old. On September 13, 1956 IBM introduced the first computer to include magnetic disks, the IBM 305 RAMAC. I thought the brief history of hard disks might be interesting to some of you as I obviously got distracted by it!

Early Hard Disks Units (1956-1980)

So, the early hard disks were actually banks of magnetic disks, and not the multi-platter devices we have now. The DSU (Disk Storage Unit) that shipped with the IBM 305 RAMAC was the IBM 350. That beast 5 feet long, 5 feet 8 inches tall and just under two and a half feet deep. It stored about 4.5MB of data, or one picture from my digital camera and had an annual lease cost of $35,000 US Dollars a year! IBM made over 1000 of these units before retiring them in 1961.There were quite a few advances in density, spindle speed, and access speed between 1956 and 1961. The IBM 1301 was announced with “Flying Heads” but ran into some major issues. This would get worked out, and shape the next 30 years of hard disks.

IBM 350 hard disk storage unit

IBM 350 disk storage unit

The next “feature” for hard disks was found in the IBM 1311 which included removable disks for the first time. According to IBM this let users “switch applications easily” however the disk packs that were removable weighed in at over 10 pounds! The portability had a cost however, as the drive packs only stored about 2MB of data. This unit was about the side of your normal clothes washer is today, and you could least it for just $42,000 US Dollars a year. The 1311 was responsible for the mass adoption of disk storage in business applications. It’s cost became low enough where every company that needed to store information (airlines, telecoms, governments, everyone really) leased one of these or its later models.

Personal Hard Disks (1980-Future?)

Starting around 1980 personal computers started to get traction in the homes and schools of America, and across the world. This is really when the hard disk as we know it started to form as people had no room on their desk for a 4 foot by 4 foot cube to store their information. Suddenly IBM had some real competition and magnetic storage devices started to advance rapidly. This advancement really has not stopped since but how long do they have before they go the way of the magnetic tape storage? Well I guess that depends on who you ask, and why you think the magnetic tape is dead!

Hard Disk Capacity 1981-201

Hard Disk Capacity 1981-201

I really can not see magnetic disks going anywhere, regardless of how fast or big Solid State Disks get. The same reason why tape drives didn’t go away 57 years ago is the why the hard disk will last quite a few decades longer; duplication of data. With all the regulation on data storage, the proliferation of social networking and mobile devices and the mass amount of information that is collected about each one of us magnetic disks are going to be the most cost efficient and durable way to store data for a long time coming. Besides, do you really want to keep your 250gb STEAM directory on a SSD? Me neither…
My hat’s off to you, magnetic hard disks, may you live to be over 100!
Some reference links:
Magnetic Disk Heritage Center
IBM Storage Reference Room
Wikipedia IBM Magnetic Disk History
photo credit(s):
nidhug via photopin cc 

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