hard drive

In 24 years the hard disk drive evolved from a monstrosity with fifty two-foot diameter disks holding five MBytes (5,000,000 bytes) of data to today’s drives measuring 3 /12 inches wide and an inch high (and smaller) holding 400 GBytes (400,000,000,000 bytes/characters). Here, then, is the short history of this marvelous device.

Before the disk drive there were drums… In 1950 Engineering Research Associates of Minneapolis built the first commercial magnetic drum storage unit for the U.S. Navy, the ERA 110.  It could store one million bits of data and retrieve a word in 5 thousandths of a second.

In 1956 IBM invented the first computer disk storage system, the 305 RAMAC (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control).  This system could store five MBytes.  It had fifty, 24-inch diameter disks!

In 1973 IBM shipped the model 3340 Winchester sealed hard disk drive, the predecessor of all current hard disk drives.  The 3340 had two spindles each with a capacity of 30 MBytes, and the term "30/30 Winchester" was thus coined.

In 1980, Seagate Technology introduced the first hard disk drive for microcomputers, the ST506.  It was a full height (twice as high as most current 5 1/4" drives) 5 1/4" drive, with a stepper motor, and held 5 Mbytes.  It was well over a thousand dollars. In 1980 Phillips introduced the first optical laser drive. In 1981, Sony shipped the first 3 1/2" floppy drives.

The first CD-ROM drives were shipped in 1984, and "Grolier’s Electronic Encyclopedia," followed in 1985.  The 3 1/2" IDE drive started its existence as a drive on a plug-in expansion board, or "hard card

In 1986 the first 3 /12" hard disks with voice coil actuators were introduced by Conner in volume, but half (1.6") and full height 5 1/4" drives persisted for several years.  In 1988 Conner introduced the first one inch high 3 1/2" hard disk drives.  In the same year PrairieTek shipped the first 2 1/2" hard disks.

In 1997 Seagate introduced the first 7,200 RPM, Ultra ATA hard disk drive for desktop computers and in February of this year they introduced the first 15,000 RPM hard disk drive, the Cheetah X15.

Now, the IBM 6/20/00 drive holds one gigabyte on a disk which is the size of an American quarter.  The world’s first gigabyte-capacity disk drive, the IBM 3380, introduced in 1980, was the size of a refrigerator, weighed 250 kg, and had a price tag of $40,000.

We live in interesting times… 


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