A brief history of hard drives
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What high-tech product advances the fastest? It’s probably the hard drive. The capacity doubles easily every two years and sometimes every year, faster even than the chip progress described by Moore’s Law. The first drives took up storage closets. Now, a 5GB drive can fit in a phone. Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, which has made drives for years and also now owns IBM’s drive division, recently collected pictures from hard drive history and made a calendar. Here are some highlights.
rnrnThe IBM System 305, the world’s first computer with a hard drive, debuted in 1956 and relied on the random access method of accounting and control (RAMAC) to store data. This is a side view. The entire device required 50 24-inch diameter platters coated with iron oxide paint mounted on a rotating spindle. It held 5MB, or about 1/100th of the amount in flash cards for cameras today.
A RAMAC system in action. Computer programmers who worked in that era have fond memories of these systems. “I remember the RAMAC maintenance crew used to stand by and plug in new tubes, because the heat and use would blow them suckers out all day long. It was an adventure to watch the control arm move up and down the disk system. It moved at a speed that you could see–amazing,” wrote one News.com reader.
Although some say Apple Computer defines high-tech style for the current age, IBM was the undisputed leader in the 1970s. It put color panels on mainframes as well as on this device, the IBM 3340 storage system in crockpot red. The platters, back in 1973, held 1.7MB per square inch, a record at the time. Companies shared these systems, leasing time and space when required. The going rate was $7.81 a megabyte, 38 percent more than the price of oil at the time.
Behold the magic of Merlin. In 1971, IBM started shipping disks with a technology nicknamed Merlin that let the drive head track the platter much better. Prerecorded servo bursts help sync up the head and platters.
The Thin Film head, which debuted in 1979. Years later, the Giant Magneto Resistive head, invented by IBM, allowed for greater accuracy in positioning of data, which lead directly to improvements in areal density. The “giant” in GMR doesn’t refer to the size of the head but the large changes in resistance that occur when magnetic fields are applied. (Different resistance levels can be tagged as ones and zeros of data.) You could stack up 250,000 of these heads and it would be less than an inch high.
In 1982, Hitachi shipped the first drive with more than 1GB of storage. The 1.2GB H-8598, seen here, consisted of 10 14-inch platters and two read-write heads. Six years later, Hitachi shipped a 1.89GB drive made from eight 9.5-inch disks, which reduced the kilogram-to-gigabyte ratio from 121 kilograms per gigabyte to 42. Hitachi claimed this later drive was the first mainframe class drive that a single human could carry.
This 2.5-inch Tanba-1 drive, which came out in 1991, contained 63MB of data storage space. Such 2.5-inch drives are still common in notebooks, but can now hold 100GB.
When hamsters compute. This is someone’s house pet posed with a Hitachi microdrive. The drives, with 1-inch diameter platters, were invented in 1999 by IBM, but didn’t find a mass market until the arrival of iPod Minis. It is unclear whether gerbils or guinea pigs can actually take advantage of the technology.
Another view of the microdrive. The microdrives from Hitachi, seen here, contain platters that measure 1-inch across, while Toshiba has shrunk this to 0.85 inches. But neither company says it has plans to shrink platters further. Instead, they will work on reliability and increasing density through technologies such as perpendicular recording.
The pico slider (left) and the femto slider. A slider sits at the end of the hard-drive arm and functions like the cartridge for a needle on a turntable. The smaller femto slider, which debuted in 2003, reduced energy consumption and improved performance in drives.