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50th Anniversary of the First Hard Drive 225

Posted by Zonk
from the whirrr-click dept.
ennuiner writes "Over at Newsweek Steven Levy has a column commemorating IBM's introduction of the first hard drive 50 years ago. The drive was the size of two refrigerators, weighed a ton, and had a vast 5MB capacity. They also discuss the future of data storage." From the article: "Experts agree that the amazing gains in storage density at low cost will continue for at least the next couple of decades, allowing cheap peta-bytes (millions of gigabytes) of storage to corporations and terabytes (thousands of gigs) to the home. Meanwhile, drives with mere hundreds of gigabytes will be small enough to wear as jewelry."
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50th Anniversary of the First Hard Drive

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  • by mobby_6kl (668092) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:36PM (#15813531)
    I'll never use up so much space!
    • What if you want to download the entire Internet? Man, now that would really clog up the tubes.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        I download all of my internets right when I turn on my computer. That way I can read the internets later. I didn't realize internets were so big.

    • by KiloByte (825081) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @06:29PM (#15813756)
      Every disk gets full after about 1-1.5 month. It's an unbreachable law, true for every disk that sees some use.

      A kid will fill it with games, a teenager will fill it with pr0n, most my friends will fill it with movies. I will fill it with random versions of package sources; molecular biologists I once built a 17TB array for filled it with copies of already processed detector output -- instead of deleting them, they left them "just in case".

      Capacity is irrelevant, the time is pretty much constant.
      • by duke12aw (936319) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @06:51PM (#15813859)
        as a 17 year old i can speak from experience. you are 100% correct but there are also video games. maybe if i uninstalled the video games i would get the real thing.... wait a minute! i think i had an epiffany!
      • by Smidge204 (605297) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @07:34PM (#15814049) Journal
        Computer data is a gas; It expands to fill its container.

        =Smidge=
      • I'd have to disagree.
        I bought a 250GB(232GiB) HDD about half a year ago and so far this computer still has ~170GiB free (Out of a total of 568GiB).

        I would think that as a programmer (or someone that dabbles with prgoramming as in my case) one would like to get rid of bloat.
        I tend to remove any software i haven't used after a while, and i tend to burn stuff i downloaded to DVDs.
        • My original comment was, of course, a joke. I got a 320GB disk also about 6 month ago (don't remember exactly, but it was still very cold*), free space now: 4.5GB, and that's only because I just burned a DVD full of TV shows. So, the overall situation is:

          #. CAPC FREE
          1. 80GB 1.5G - The disk I got when building the system. Divided into a system and games partition.
          2. 160G 100M - Photos, a few installed games, game images, videos, music
          3. 320G 4.5G - Game images, videos (tv/movies), music

          Each of the disks were
          • Speaking of partitions, mine go as follows:

            80GB IDE
            {
            C 100MiB - Boot
            D 25GiB - System/Program Files
            12GiB - Ubuntu
            E 37GiB - Games/Documents and Settings
            }

            80GB IDE 2
            {
            Z 8GiB - Page File/Temp/Printer Spool
            F 66GiB - Downloads
            }

            200GB Sata
            {
            H 186GiB - Misc Data
            }

            250GB Sata 2
            {
            I 232GiB - Movies/TV shows
            }

            The reason i mention this
      • by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @08:12PM (#15814251)
        "Every disk gets full after about 1-1.5 month. It's an unbreachable law, true for every disk that sees some use."

        That isn't true in my experience. Every hard drive I purchase gets harder and harder to fill up. Remember back in the DOS days? I do. My first HD was 40 megs. I was ALWAYS backing up to floppies. Not out of fear the drive would die, but because I was always having to move things on and off the HD to because of the limited space. That problem has been less and less severe over the years. HDs, for me, are rising in size faster than I can change my data downloading habits to keep them full. That may or may not always be true, but I'm drawing from over 10 years of computing here.
      • I've got a total of about 1.5TiB here. I'm using around 0.8TiB of it. Up until this current generation of systems I was having a terrible time staying under the limit . . . now I'm mostly just not worrying about it. I bought a second 500GiB drive because I decided to dump all my music to FLAC, but until I start dumping raw DVDs I'm pretty much fine on space . . . and I can't think of a reason I'd want to start dumping raw DVDs.

        Most of my friends use nowhere near the amount I do. I think most people really h
        • The raw DVDs, one day, won't be enough. One day, we'll have large enough harddrives to think nothing of dumping uncompressed video to disk, and leaving it around, 'just in case' (TM)
      • Yeah, I remember a few years ago wondering why anyone would want a hard-drive as large as 10 GB. It seemed like way more then I could ever use, and I was still running on a 1 GB hard drive I barely got passed ~700 MB.

        Then I discovered BitTorrent...
      • Every disk gets full after about 1-1.5 month. It's an unbreachable law, true for every disk that sees some use.

        I used to think this too. I still do, in 95% of cases. I think the problem is that we're used to disk capacities that require some management as to what is kept and what is not. When you go sufficiently overboard, it ceases to be a problem.

        One thing I have noticed with three computers I work with (not true for the other dozens I work with), is that they actually have sufficient space. One I is used
  • At last... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Sixtyten (991538) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:38PM (#15813542)
    Experts agree that the amazing gains in storage density at low cost will continue for at least the next couple of decades, allowing cheap peta-bytes (millions of gigabytes) of storage to corporations and terabytes (thousands of gigs) to the home.
    Finally, hard drives big enough to run Windows Vista will exist.
  • As always.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MuNansen (833037) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:39PM (#15813544)
    "Experts agree that the amazing gains in storage density at low cost will continue for at least the next couple of decades, allowing cheap peta-bytes (millions of gigabytes) of storage to corporations and terabytes (thousands of gigs) to the home. Meanwhile, drives with mere hundreds of gigabytes will be small enough to wear as jewelry..." ...this probably means that we're about to hit a development wall. We know how good experts are at predicting these kinds of things.
    • Re:As always.... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ant P. (974313)
      That's because it _is_ about to hit a wall: atoms. After that hard disks will start getting bigger, and eventually something more space-efficient will replace them.
    • Re:As always.... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by iPatch (540117) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @06:14PM (#15813693)
      Exactly. I'm wondering who these experts are anyways as we're about to hit a major wall in the next decade. We've been reducing the spacing between the transducer (read-write element) and magnetic media in HDD for about 50 years now. Each year the transducer gets closer to the disk and, as a result, storage densities have been going up. However, within a few years, we won't be able to get closer without having to worry about intermolecular forces [wikipedia.org] that come into play at spacings below 5nm. These can cause serious flying problems for a slider in a hard disk drive.

      To get closer to the disk, many researchers are looking at actually running a disk with the slider in contact with the disk. From a mechanics standpoint, that's just frightening. When you think about the friction and wear this will cause on the nanometer thin films on a disk platter, the outlook it isn't all that good...

      Now I will say that people have been predicting the demise of the hard disk drive for decades. For example, they never thought it would be possible to fly a slider at spacings less than the mean free path of air (~65nm) but HDD sliders currently fly with a minimum spacing of about 7-12nm. HDD Engineers have been able to overcome every major technical of the last 50 years and have, so far, won the cost per GB storage war. Even so, I'm curious how they'll get over the hurdles of the next decade as they're looking pretty frightening.
      • Re:As always.... (Score:2, Interesting)

        by ChronoReverse (858838)
        Easy way to continue. 3D storage. We're still storing the bits on a platter surface. While we have multiple platters, that's not quite the same. In any case, if we actually get the physical bits down to atomic sizes, even in 2D it'd be pretty immense. Can someone do a back of the napkin calculation for this?
      • From a mechanics standpoint, that's just frightening. When you think about the friction and wear this will cause on the nanometer thin films on a disk platter, the outlook it isn't all that good.
        We have plenty of technologies that use a temporary low friction surface that is replaced on the fly, and I don't see any reason why harddisks should be different.

        Figure out a way of adding a thin film of oil to the platter and you can deal with the wear and tear pretty easily.
        • Re:As always.... (Score:2, Interesting)

          by iPatch (540117)
          Good point. I think Seagate already has something similar [slashdot.org] but it grew out of their HAMR research.

          I suppose the main reason all this is worrying though is that you have something sliding over your data at 50m/s. All that's protecting the integrity of the data is a layer of lubricant (~1.5 nanometers or a few molecules thick) and a layer of diamond like carbon (DLC, ~1 nm). If your lubricant layer gets too thick, you might have trouble reading or writing data to the magnetic layer of your disk. If your
    • by Skevin (16048)
      It's not so much peta-bytes I'm interested, falafel-bytes. Mmmm yummy!

      (unless we're talking about the other kind of peta-bytes, the ones associated with animal rights people...)

      Solomon
    • Is there anything in the works beyond perpendicular storage? Even that is supposed to be topping out at only 4x today's capacities. i.e. 3.5" drives topping out at 2TB.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:39PM (#15813545)
    FTA:
    Kryder of Seagate and Healy of Hitachi assure us that new disk-drive features like built-in encryption will protect copyright holders and our own personal records

    What the fuck is this, some new trusted computing drm scheme I never heard of?

  • 5MB? (Score:3, Funny)

    by kimvette (919543) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:39PM (#15813550) Homepage Journal
    Five MEGABYTES? Holy crap! My 5.25" floppy disks only hold 170K!!

    (my thoughts during the reign of Commodore)
  • by mattkime (8466) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:39PM (#15813551)
    ...and when was the first hard drive crash?

    Does anyone know?
    • by Ohreally_factor (593551) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:45PM (#15813580) Journal
      When one of the janitors tried to wash the towels in it and didn't balance the load properly. After that, the HD had a tendency to vibrate hard enough to move across the room.
    • by fm6 (162816) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:54PM (#15813621) Homepage Journal
      Probably the same day, or at least the same week. The disk platters were open to the air, and the read-write head "flew" a few micrometers above the disk surface, kept apart only by the cushioning effect of the air. If a speck of dust got between the head and the platter, the head would crash into the platter like an airplane that had lost its wings. Probably where our notion of "system crash" comes from, come to think of it.
    • Flying platters (Score:3, Interesting)

      by springbox (853816)
      One of my friends told me a story about one of those ancient hard drives (I believe he said it was from a professor) with the gigantic platters in the huge boxes. Well apparently, the drive head was moving back and forth fast enough to really shake the cabinet, which ended up dislodging one of the platters, which broke free from its case, rolled across the hallway of the building where it was being stored, then proceeded to smash through a brick wall and finally land on top of an employee's car in the adjac
      • Re:Flying platters (Score:3, Interesting)

        by madaxe42 (690151)
        Probably untrue, but there were certainly some old HDDs which could stall in a certain way and 'walk' across the floor, typically as far as their power cords would reach.
      • Hard to sort out from urban legend, but reminds me of something I heard awhile ago. Apparently this was in the era of "drum memory". These units were about the size of a washing machine, and operated about the same. Big spinning drum inside a bit like the basket in the washing machine. Spinning quickly of course. Very high mass, it was metal and iron and spinning fast, a lot of energy in that thing when it was spun up. Normally takes 3-5 minutes to spin up to operating speed and longer to stop. Anywa
    • Beh. I personally managed to stop an entire datacenter of washing machines. As a toddler.

      The thing is, in communism there is a shortage of everything, including places in kindergarten. So, my mom used to take me to work, just like many of her friends. And one day, I decided to run around, reaching up and flipping every disk power switch -- the disks had separate power switches, on about the height of the panel of a washing machine. That is, within the reach of a stretched out hand of a kid.
  • The drive was the size of two refrigerators, weighed a ton, and had a vast 5MB capacity.

    Couldn't they have made an optical punch card reader that would fit into the space of two refrigerators? And stored 5MB worth of punch cards?

    I'm not criticizing, just asking if that technology was around 50 years ago.
    • Re:Punch Cards? (Score:3, Insightful)

      Then you have the interesting problems of random access to the cards and re-writable cards.

      Not criticizing you, just taking the idea further.
      • There are ways around those problems, like having some kind of feed device to access the cards randomly and feed in new cards as needed. All beside the point, because such a device would be horribly complicated, and therefore unreliable. Anything you can do do reduce the number of mechanical parts in a device makes it more reliable. And magnetic recording is a lot less mechanical than punching holes in paper.
        • All beside the point, because such a device would be horribly complicated, and therefore unreliable.

          Obviously. But there is beauty* in the impractical and inelegant solution. Think Rube Goldberg's machines.

          *humor
    • Re:Punch Cards? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by teslar (706653) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @06:01PM (#15813648)
      Well, let's see... apologies in advance for getting the numbers wrong, I always mess up my conversions (but it doesn't matter as you'll see at the end).
      But 5 Mb = 5 242 880 bytes = 41 943 040 bits (that is assuming I got it right)

      Now, I don't know exactly what sort of resolution you had on punch cards, but it's probably fair to assume that, including padding, a centimeter squared would do per bit. so you need 41 943 040 cm^2 = 4 194.304 square meters of punch cards. Now say, just for the sake of the argument, that your punch cards are 30x 30 = 900cm^2, you would need 46 603.3777.... of them. And then it all boils down to how thin your punch cards can be, but just intuitively, I'd say, yeah, you can easily fill up that space with 5Mb worth of punch cards.

      But then again, you are missing the entire point. Punch cards are not rewritable, hard disks are and that is the innovative bit. So it doesn't matter whether or not you can put punch cards in that space, it's all about being able to reuse said space.
      • The most common format of punch cards had 80 columns of 12 holes... and a surface area of about 155cm^2, and a thickness of 0.018cm, giving a bit density of about 345bits per cm^3
        5MB of punch cards would come to about 0.12 m^3

        As for them not being re-writable, from what I have heard from US elections recently, I wouldn't be so sure.
      • Re:Punch Cards? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Drishmung (458368)
        A punch card was 80 columns, of 12 rows, that is, 960 bits per card. (In binary mode. EBCDIC encoded only 8 bits per column, but you could do a binary dump to cards). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punch_card [wikipedia.org]

        5MB = 5 x 1024 x 1024 x 8 bits, which would require 43,690.67 cards. That's about 9 boxes of cards, at 5,000 cards per box; or 25 linear ft of 'deck' . I'd say the punch card density was about 4 times better than the hard drive (not allowing for the size of the card reader/punch though).

        At 1,000 car

        • by Baricom (763970) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @08:03PM (#15814190)
          Now. imagine Vista on punch cards...

          The first two boxes of cards check that they're being run on the correct reader, and that they're Genuine (TM) IBM cards. Then, the next 500 boxes get fed into the machine, only to gum up the feed mechanism before anything productive gets done.
      • 1cm2 would be extremely generous. Recalculate assuming the punches are vertical rectangles 1.5mm wide and 4mm high, with about a 1mm gap between them on all sides, borders are about 1/2 inch, and the cards themselves are oh... 4.5" x 8" or so. Expect at least three rows unused for written identification and card numbering. (god forbid you "drop a deck". you'll be running to the nearest reader and loading the "sort" program!)

        I never got to use one, but I've seen them more than once. There's a funky hand-
      • your punch cards are 30x 30 = 900cm^2, you would need 46 603.3777.... of them

        Yeah, but what's that in Metric?
    • Re:Punch Cards? (Score:2, Informative)

      Magentic tape already existed at the time, no need for that.

      The whole idea was "random access" not "serial access" - punch cards and mag tape you need to shuffle thru the pile of cards, or run down the tape end to end.
  • My first HD (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jhon (241832) * on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:41PM (#15813556) Homepage Journal
    Sadly, I still have my first hard drive. A 20 meg RLL monster I purchased some 20 odd years ago. I can't just throw it away. I had to finance that sucker -- it ran me nearly $900 (more like $1400 after interest). And it STILL works.

    So it sits on my shelf, collects dust and I complain about not being able to throw it away... And my belly-aching about it started when I picked up my first video card which had more memory than my first hard drive. I'm sure those two events aren't unrelated.
  • Wrong, wrong, wrong! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kimvette (919543) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:43PM (#15813569) Homepage Journal
    Meanwhile, drives with mere hundreds of gigabytes will be small enough to wear as jewelry. "You'll have with you every album and tune you've ever bought, every picture you've ever taken, every tax record," says Bill Healy, an executive at Hitachi, which acquired IBM's storage business in 2003.


    Not if the MPAA, RIAA, and BSA have their way,you won't. You'll RENT software, not own it, you'll pay-for-play music and video, and you will be THANKFUL for the privilege of doing so!

    Thankfully, I think that the **AA and BSA will utimately lose.
  • by VikingThunder (924574) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:45PM (#15813581)
    With a terabyte HDD, I surely hope they finally find some way to dramatically increase the transfer rates. We haven't seen much change in that in quite a while.
  • Hard! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fm6 (162816) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:47PM (#15813592) Homepage Journal
    Usual /. sloppiness with language. What we call a hard drive uses Winchester Technology [webopedia.com] where the drive platters are sealed in an airtight contain. Ubiguitous now, but anybody old enough remembers the old big drives where the platters were bare, like modern floppies. Very sensitive to dust.

    Saying that the hard drive was invented 50 years ago implies that before that people used floppies. In fact, this was the first disk drive of any kind.

    • by ennuiner (144711)
      Since I suggested the story, I feel a little defensive and want to respond. The title of the article is "The Hard Disk That Changed the World," so if the language is sloppy, the sloppiness is on the part of Newsweek and not me. Since you're being picky, I'll point out that it's spelled "ubiquitous," not "ubiguitous."
  • What, no pictures? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Captain Perspicuous (899892) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:48PM (#15813594)
    That linked page shows a pic of the guy who wrote the story, several ads for magazines etc, an illustration with some distant link to the story, but what we all want are some pics of those huge disks. What's up with all those newspaper guys, haven't they learned yet that the web loves pictures? They (and by that I mean nearly every website of a newspaper all over the world) as if they just moved all their text-only content to the web without understanding those amazing new possibilities in the first place - and with the web now over 10 years old, I'm really starting to doubt if they will ever learn.
    • by Albanach (527650)
      Most newspapers are used to bying rights to a picture for use in a single issue, for print purposes and for distrobution in a single market. Because they license dozens or hundreds of such images each day tey know exactly what they're getting into. Equally press photographers are used to licensing on this basis too.

      When you need to license for the web you need extended rights - how long will you keep the article available for, across multiple markets. Newspapers are getting better at this, and will contin

      • So how long before we see news pictures on the web that aren't the size of a postage stamp?

        (Pet peeve is sites where the main image is 300x240 and their "zoomed" image is 400x300.)

    • another beautiful thing about the internet: google image search!
      http://images.google.com/images?q=ibm+ramac [google.com]
    • by darkfish32 (909153)
      wikipedia has a nice article on the subject, here [wikipedia.org], with at least one great picture.

      or google image, like suggested above, though it is disappointing the original article didn't have pictures of the giants
  • by Jazzer_Techie (800432) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:55PM (#15813624)
    I was just curious about how big a bit is going to be on these new drives, so I did a quick back of the envelope calculation (I actually used a scrap of paper bag.)

    Let's take jewlery-sized to mean 1 cm^2 of usable area. And take 100s of GB to be 100 GB, or 10^11 bytes, so ~10^12 bits. Pop these in a 10^6 x 10^6 grid. Then we have 10^-2 / 10 ^ 6 = 10^-8 m to be the length/width of a bit. A hydrogen atom is ~ 10^-10m (I think Iron is ~2.5 times that size). So roughly, bits would be a maximum of 100 x 100 atoms, but probably more towards 50 x 50.

    That is pretty small!
    • Welcome to "blue-sky thinking", aka any old crap I can spout to fill up a column on a slow news day.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Neat. Let's do the same calculation with the 50-year old drive. It has 5 mega-bytes = 5 x 10e6 bytes or approximately 5*10e7 bits. The storage unit is "the size of two refrigerators" or (my guess) 5' wide by 6' high by 3' deep or 5*6*3 = 90 cubic feet or 90*12e3 = 155520 cubic inches. 155530 / 5*10e7 = 1/321. Therefore the 50-year old drive had (very approximately) an average of 321 bits per cubic inch. .wk.
    • I was just curious about how big a bit is going to be on these new drives

      If the bit is vertical I guess that would mean taller hard drives, thus causing computer cases to get bigger. This is an obvious indicator of waste and largesse in modern western societies.
  • by C0vardeAn0nim0 (232451) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @05:55PM (#15813625) Journal
    "Kryder of Seagate and Healy of Hitachi assure us that new disk-drive features like built-in encryption will protect copyright holders and our own personal records."

    so the drives themselves will prevent us from copying media TO them and/or prevented us from copying stuff FROM them ?

    what's the potential for abuse here ? try to upgrade to windows BlindenessXP2010 with a leaked key and it'll tell the HD to lock all your files... scary though, isn't it ?

    no thanks. i want my terabyte SATA IV disk to be a plain data storage thingie with no stings attached or any sort of "copy protection" or encription. I'll handle data-protection on software myself
    • Encryption inherent to the drive was attempted over 10 years ago. There is no technology in the way of it, but it crashed and burned back then due to the fact that the world wants the HDD as a storage device, and the big brother stuff be kept up at a higher level in the system.

      Sorta like the video telephone. Easy to do, but nobody really wanted it.
  • ...and Hard Drives were *real* hardrives, and programmers were neurotic from writing code that had to take into account the spinning of the hard-drive and time their data accesses so that operations in a loop didn't wind up waiting for 2/3 of a physical rotation on each cycle...
  • by AbRASiON (589899) * on Sunday July 30, 2006 @06:07PM (#15813665) Journal
    Oh hard drives how you curse me.

    I love these things and I hate them, as an enthusiast I've always been a big fan of the high performance hard disk. I've done my best to learn about them, I've theorised about ways of speeding them up, I've discussed the technology with friends for hours at a time in a geek like fasion.

    As much as I love a fast hard disk and I love a big hard disk I also hate these hard disks, because ultimately it's a very old fasioned method of storing our data, it's just some magnetic disc spinning same as it did 50 years ago.

    When you really think about it, it's just a really extreme tape drive with better random access, there's moving parts, it's delicate, they can run hot, they can be noisy etc.

    I recall my C64 as a boy, sure it had that weird "computer high pitch whine" to it but when the 1541-II wasn't reading data that baby was pretty damn quiet, I miss those days and hard disks don't help.

    What we need is to finally see the end of the hard disk, some new method of storing data, something which holds more, reads and writes faster, less delicate and no moving parts - of course solid state sucks right now but damnit I recall discussing holographic drives storing data on a small cube the size of a peice of sugar at 2tb or something (so the rumours went, like 5 or 10 years ago)

    The oven had the microwave replace it with a whole new tech, the television had the LCD / plasma, sending data has gone (at points) from copper to light - cmon where's the magnetic storage replacement, something to put us in the 21'st century?

    So in conclusion, I love them but I also hate them - it's really time for something new,...
    • There's a reason we're also still using the combustion engine: it's cheap and it works. It's also been vastly improved over time.

      It's like you're saying your Honda Accord needs to be replaced by some new technology because it's the same thing as a Model T. It's obviously not. And the technology nor infrastructure does not yet exist to efficiently replace it.

      The same concept applies here. We'll have something "new" as you say when the technology is available at a reasonable price.
      • I realise that nothing is out there yet which can replace it, that doesn't stop one hoping, especially with every couple of years an "amazing new technology" being announced but never making it to market.

        The other problem is, right now if "they" released something which was bigger, faster, lighter, quieter than hard disks, it would either cost a boatload and fail or if it was priced correctly - destroy the hard disk industry as we know it over night.

        I'm not much for conspiracy theories,...however I'm sure w
    • To quote the mighty bash.org

      [ikkenai] i don't have hard drives. i just keep 30 chinese teenagers in my basement and force them to memorize numbers
       
    • The oven in my kitchen is a slightly evolved version of ovens 50 years ago. Heck even my microwave is just a slightly improved version of the first microwaves back in the late 70s. Some technologies have advanced, but others have just gotten slightly improved over the years, because as poor as they are, they are still the best. Consider the internal combustion engine. While computer controls have increased reliability and decreased emissions dramatically (and increased power and efficiency), the engine
    • it's really time for something new

      I think it's too soon to expect something to change just because it's now the "21st Century". There are alternatives if you are serious enough about using them, but the reality is that you must resign yourself to the fact that it is the best tool for the job. If there was something else that was more economical, then it would probably be in dominant use. Frankly, hard drives work well enough, IMO, and have an unbeatable value in cost, number of re-writes and capacity. I
    • Magnetic media is in many cases better than the current alternatives at the moment, and this is where your own analogy can explain. While microwave ovens made cooking more convenient, it certainly hasn't replaced ovens-- nearly every house nowadays has both. Microwave ovens aren't very good at producing the yummy browning [wikipedia.org] that ovens and ranges produce, and so ovens, despite their relative age as a technology, are still around. The same thing goes for CRTs-- LCDs are getting closer at producing the same w
  • by mrAgreeable (47829) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @06:07PM (#15813668)
    Yeah, because the hard drive is the new bling [hitachigst.com].
  • by viking2000 (954894) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @06:08PM (#15813672)
    In 1990, we had some brand new HP disks the size of a washing machine. Capacity 650MB.

    Some software was written to move the head assembly from end to end. This would cause so much vibration the the whole machine would "walk" around.

    The machine room had video cameras, and sometimes if you saw some maintenance people in the machine room, you would launch the "Butterfly test" on all the drives. They would come alive like a bad horror movie, and all walk around. The poor maintenance person would try to run out befor the exit got blocked.
  • by Deathlizard (115856) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @06:15PM (#15813699) Homepage Journal
    How much would one of these refrigerator drives hold today if they used the cutting edge write strategies we use today?
  • by QuantumFTL (197300) * <justin.wick@gmai l . com> on Sunday July 30, 2006 @06:18PM (#15813707)
    All this new storage space will doubtless be quite useful, but I wonder if we're about to get to the point where the network becomes the primary limiting factor in the usefuless of a computer (for most users), rather than the size of the hard drive? Just as memory is now usually the bottleneck, rather than the CPU, I can see that very soon the extra space will exceed that which can be downloaded in a reasonable amount of time (say, a year) - especially in sprawling, predominantly rural countries like the US.

    I've played around with the notion of there being "content neutral" downloading services, where people bring in their external hard drives, plug in, and download at very high speeds for a premium, returning in an hour or so (akin to having film developed). This may actually make sense at some point, provided the legal hurdles can be jumped.
  • The company I worked for while I was in college in the early '80's had my first encounters with hard drives: removable 52MB multi-platter packs in a washing-machine-sized enclosure.

    In '84 at my next job, the Lisa HDD was 5MB for either $1500 or $2500, I don't remember exactly. I remember the first hard drives for the Mac whose controllers clipped onto the CPU, and I think ran around $1000 for $20.

    I finally cracked down and bought a 20MB drive for a Mac Plus for $600 -- that was a bargain.

    When I realize tha
  • more info (Score:4, Informative)

    by wjsroot (732775) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @06:33PM (#15813768)
    check this out:
    http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2006/05/19/1956-fir st-hard-drive-5mb/ [modernmechanix.com]
    its an ibm document about the drive (and some other hard ware)
    It has a picture, and some more technical info!
  • Hard disk crash.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 30, 2006 @06:35PM (#15813780)
    For all of those not lucky enough to walk into the William Gates Computer Science building at Stanford here's my photo of their 1967 hard disk: http://www.slac.stanford.edu/~ajh/harddisk.jpg [stanford.edu]. The dark line around the edge is the result of the head crashing into the disk. The disk cost $300,000 and held an impressive 48Mbytes over the 10 inner surfaces of 6 of these platters. Each platter's diameter is over 1m. Disk startup time was 5 minutes, access time was 35msec and transfer speed was 2.7Mb/s!

    Stanford actually sued for $580,000 because of this crash and it not working within specifications. One bugbear was that it "cannot be used for longterm storage"!
  • by loose electron (699583) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @07:12PM (#15813948) Homepage
    Heres a picture of the original production version:

    http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/exhibits/storage /storage_PH0350A.html [ibm.com]

    I met Reynold Johnson about 15 years back, (he died a while back) he ran the first design program developing this thing.

    Some did not believe in it's viability back then. Somebody posted a picture of a bologna slicer on the side of the engineering prototype. The only thing in common between the original and the current methods are spinning disks. Everything else has changed in its approach.

    They have been predicting the demise of the disk drive for 20 years. However the cost per byte (or mega,giga,tera,peta-byte) of magnetic storage stays ahead of the cost curve, and thus perserveres.
  • RAMAC was a dead end (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dmonahan (957638) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @07:35PM (#15814064)
    The RAMAC was a self-contained computer. It went nowhere. The drives that actually caused a change in computing were the 5MB "pizza platter" drives on the 360, 10 years after the RAMAC. My college roommate used to go home one weekend a month to spend Sunday with his father (DP manager of a major company) backing up the RAMAC onto punch cards. He said it took all day and about 2 six-packs. Dick.
  • by ClosedSource (238333) * on Sunday July 30, 2006 @08:11PM (#15814245)
    The article claims that the magnetic disk was the first mass storage with random access, but that's not true. Magnetic drums were also random access and were available a few years earlier.
  • They've really had to engineer a new way to capture and store data on the Large Hadron Collider. Here's what excites the crap out of me. The two biggest obstacles standing in our way with regard to real teleportation are the little matter of tearing apart a being, and then storing the information about that being and transmitting it.

    The folks at LHC have had to come up with whole new ways to capture data regarding the proton collisions. It is said that they'll generate the contect of 10,000 Encyclopedia
  • Is that 5MB or 5MiB? hehehehe

    Tom
  • by bnavarro (172692) on Sunday July 30, 2006 @09:05PM (#15814457)
    It seems that the Magnetic Disk Heritage Center [magneticdi...center.org] is currently restoring [magneticdi...center.org](PDF) one of only four remaining RAMACs to a functioning state.
  • Big disk drive (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sanat (702) on Monday July 31, 2006 @07:17AM (#15816283)
    I worked with similar large drives described in the article. They were CDC's first drives. The heads were moved by hydraulics and the tracks (cylinders) were counted by an etched opticial disk read by a photocell. Once the head was "on track" then a solenoid would drop a detent pawl into a square toothed gear to hold it on track. All mechanical. No voice coil to move the heads just the hydraulics.

    Each disk drive was about the size of a large computer desk and had a capacity of 262KB which is not very much compared with today's disk drives. But compared to a hollerith card it was a lot of storage when comparing to the 80 bytes or even a deck of cards. The operating system at the time was 2K in size which was one box of cards and could easily be contained on the disk drive platter.

    By keying in the bootstrap program at the console and pressing "run" then the system would read from a particular location on the disk drive which was the location of the operating system. The program would then execute the code in core and thus the system was up and running.

    The worst failure would be a ruptured hydraulic hose spewing hydraulic fluid over the entire guts of the machine. Difficult to clean up... difficult to hold onto slippery parts... and difficult to repair.

    There was only limited electronics in the disk drive itself. The controller was a refrigerator size box that held each gate on a separate circuit board. These were troubleshot utilizing a oscilloscope on a cart so it could be moved about. Each input to a gate had a test point and the output(s) also had test points. Each gate (like and, nor etc) was an individual small PC board so a disk controller might have 600 boards in it. One needed to be totally aware of each circuit and how it worked and what the signal at each junction was to be. No board swapping here. One had to know or have a very good idea what the problem was before changing a board lest you have a contoller that is nearly unfixable in very short order.

    I was very skilled at repair and yet saw the writing on the wall even then as devices became smaller and "smart".

    No longer could one trace the signal from "turn on" button to spindle rotating through each stage and gate. Eventually the "start" button would signal the input to the processor aboard the disk drive and it would be the processor that commanded the spindle to start turning. At this stage troubleshooting became board swapping for the most part.

    That is when i moved from the technical hands on realm into programming.

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