History of the Hard Disk - From Giant Drive to External Hard Disk, SSD and Cloud

There is hardly any other industry that moves as fast as technology.

History of the Hard Disk - From Giant Drive to External Hard Disk, SSD and Cloud
Mathias Ditlev
May 10, 2018

One of the things that has had the greatest impact on evolution, and later common people, is the hard drive. Indeed, for many years, the storage and retrieval of information was absolutely essential for building on existing knowledge, not just about technology.

Today there are many faster, smarter and more efficient alternatives, such as cloud storage, but there's no getting around the fact that small disks and drives have played a big part in where we are today.

Here you can get much closer to where and how it all began, as well as the evolution of the hard disk, which turned 60 in 2016, until now.

" Here you can get much closer to where and how it all began, as well as the evolution of the hard disk, which turned 60 in 2016, until now. "

The world's first hard drive was external

Let's start by asking - Could you imagine having an extra fridge, a whole ton of it, sitting in your office?

That's the size of the very first hard drives namely from 1956 , and it was a bulky cousin, at least in terms of size.

The hard disk itself, known as RAMAC, could not store more than 5 megabytes. Of course, that was also for the tidy sum of just over 56,000 kroner per megabyte, so it hardly takes a calculator to work out what it would cost to store a video from the family birthday or your holiday snaps on the big behemoth.

Read also: How much is 5GB?

RAMAC, an old hard drive the size of a refrigerator
(RAMAC) Random Access Method of Accounting And Control, IBM 350

The masterpiece could be taken credit for by the American multi-technology company, IBM. In fact, RAMAC was also the first external hard drive and the predecessor of all hard drives we have known and know today. Later, we came to associate external hard drives with something quite different.

It was also IBM that continued to develop the hard disk for many years to come, and despite the daunting price tag, they actually sold over 1000 machines in the first month the RAMAC was on the market.

Of course, despite the big sales, not everyone had the space to keep the bulky system at home or at work. Thus, the remote hard disk saw the light of day in 1962. While the RAMAC had a diameter of 61 centimetres, the new IBM 1311 could squeeze in at just 36 centimetres in diameter and weighing only 4.5 kilograms. That's the weight of an average cat, whereas before it was the weight of an average car - and all this in just six years.

Unlike RAMAC, which could store 5 MB, IBM 1311 could only store 2.6 MB. It was the start of the hard drives that most people around the world would put in their computers through the 1990s, as computers and the Internet in the home became increasingly common.

Welcome to the first gigabyte

IBM 3380, the first gigabyte
The first Gigabyte, the IBM 3380

In the early 1980s, IBM could wave goodbye to megabytes and instead introduce their first gigabyte hard drive.

It was much more space than ever before!

The IBM 3380 had a nice starting price of 546,000 kroner, so new technology was certainly not for everyone. The size was still huge, and the hard drive weighed 249 kilos, so it wasn't something that fitted into the average household either. Seagate found a market here, and in 1980 the company introduced its first disk drive as we know it. It cost 8,400 kroner and fit into the computers of the day, so for the first time individuals could invite 5 megabytes into the home.

So in 25 years, the technology managed to shrink the hard drive from the size of a fridge to less than 15 centimetres in diameter. Does that sound crazy to you?

That's nothing compared to what was going to happen in the next 25 years.

The 1990s - a pure development race among the big IT companies

The 1990s saw the first laptops, which of course also played a role in the requirements for the transport of data and its size. Desktop computers also had even smaller hard disks than had previously been the case, and the computer increasingly became a staple in small homes.

Individuals could not, of course, have a hard drive weighing more than 200 kilos in their living room. Therefore, in 1991 Integra Peripherals came out with a 4.5 centimetre hard disk. Quite groundbreaking for its size. At the same time, HP also offered the Kittyhawk disk, which measured just 3.3 cm, the following year.

Not many years later, in 1992, SeaGate introduces their Barracuda hard drive, which could hold 2.1GB. This made it the largest hard drive of its time in terms of space. It also marked the birth of the world's first 7200 RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) hard drive, making the Barracuda the world's fastest hard drive. Hence the name, named after the snappy and fast predator of the same name.

hard disk sizes
The size of hard drives is getting smaller.

In 1996, IBM made it possible for the first time to store 1 million bits per 6.4516 square centimetres. That same year, Seagate also came out with an even faster 10,000 RPM hard drive, the Cheetah series.

IBM, which had led the hard disk race for decades, obviously couldn't just stand on the sidelines and watch its competitors develop the hard disk. So in 1997, they trumped the competition with the world's first hard disk using magnetoresistive (GMR) technology, which is still in use today. The hard disk could hold a whopping 16.8 GB in its mere 8.9 cm. Not only was GMR an entirely new technology for the purpose, but the so-called "Titan" was also the most efficient hard disk drive of its time, measured by its physical size versus its virtual space. GMR technology is still in use today.

I think this illustrates very well how intense the 1990s were. So there was a lot of hard disk development going on.

In 2000, the first 15,000 RPM hard drive comes to market, the Cheetah X15, but the hard drive journey is only beginning to take off - because it could all be a lot faster with an SSD.

Fast, faster, SSD

Today, the vast majority of computers use the much more compact and faster hard drives, Solid State Drives, colloquially just abbreviated as SSD. The small, compact and lightning-fast drives came onto the market in the 2000s with companies like SanDisk, Seagate and Samsung behind the first launches. The SSD is a direct replacement for the HDD. It has also waved goodbye to sky-high prices. Today, you can pop a brand new SSD into your computer for 200 kroner for 120 GB - and in the future, the size will only increase and the price will only decrease.

Samsung, for example, launched its PM1633a SSD in 2016, which for the price of $61,000 gives you 15 terabytes. The weight is a shockingly low 140 grams, equivalent to the weight of a baseball or under half a packet of butter.

With the hard disk having gone from being the size of a family fridge to the postage stamp that many SSDs are, the world of technology is once again showing how changeable and explosive it is. The top of the cake, however, is cloud storage, which is a completely invisible form of storage that replaces the traditional hard drive, external hard drive, SSD and all other forms of physical drive.

SDD has no moving parts, which the older HDD has. This is one of the reasons why they are many times faster.

The cloud is the new

unlimited space in the cloud
In the cloud there is unlimited space.

There is no doubt that cloud storage is here to stay. The market shows it too, with users literally swimming in space and data security becoming even more important than before with the constant expansion and new possibilities of the internet. Actually, cloud computing, as it is called, is not a completely new invention at all.

It is only in recent years that the technology has been given free rein due to its great flexibility, security, speed and low cost. The first idea and actual cloud was conceived by J.C.R. Licklider in 1969, just 13 years after IBM's first hard disk saw the light of day. He thought it would be smarter if all the world's computers had access to that pool of shared data, and we have to agree that's smart. 

Whereas in the past you could risk your hard drive suddenly crashing and losing all your data, today you can store it in the cloud and access it wherever you are in the world. If your computer kills itself, you can just access your files from your mobile phone or tablet instead. Storing your data in the cloud is clearly the safest and also the cheapest way. Plus, your cloud storage only physically takes up what your computer does - whereas here at Onlime, for example, you have unlimited space at your fingertips, wherever you are. If you also make use of our Office Online integration, you don't have to keep your documents on your hard drive anymore.

Another advantage of digital storage versus the traditional hard drive is that you can quickly and easily share your files with friends, family or your colleagues. In the past, the former had to stand glued behind you to watch what was happening on the screen. Later, you could send what you wanted to share in an email or a fax. Today, you can share a link wherever the recipient is in the world.

If this doesn't illustrate how far data storage and sharing has come in just over 60 years, we don't know what does.

Thanks for reading 🙂