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That's not a hard drive. THIS is a hard drive.
August 15, 2014 7:32 AM   Subscribe

In Search at San Jose the R&D minds at IBM describe how they designed & built the world's first hard drive, the IBM 305 RAMAC (previously). First sold in 1956, it stored a whopping 5 million characters of information, all ready for immediate access to the user.
posted by scalefree (28 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
It had a single head, to get from one platter to another it pulled out and moved up/down to another platter. Average seek time was 600ms (modern drives are 6ms to 50ms). It weighed 2,140 pounds, stored about 3.5 MB and cost was $15,200 per MB.
posted by stbalbach at 8:02 AM on August 15


It's pretty amazing how successful that storage technology has proved to be, almost 60 years on.
posted by Auden at 8:14 AM on August 15


Five million characters? Pff. That's half-again as many letters as are in the Bible. They'll never fill that thing.
posted by Etrigan at 8:17 AM on August 15 [3 favorites]


It's pretty amazing how successful that storage technology has proved to be, almost 60 years on.

As I sit here listening to the shitty hard drive clicking away after ten minutes in the xw4600 behind me, I came to realize something. This invention, while ushering in a new age of human ingenuity, has cost the world untold billions if not trillions of hours in productivity.

When the mechanical hard drive dies the death it so sorely deserves I will not weep. For the beast which has enslaved humanity with 10 minute bootup times and unresponsive systems under load will finally be dead forever. And the one true king shall forever inherit the computing world and usher us into a new age of enlightenment.
posted by Talez at 8:21 AM on August 15


Areal density appears to be roughly 700 bits per square inch.
posted by wotsac at 8:22 AM on August 15


Areal density appears to be roughly 700 bits per square inch.

You could write that with a fine tipped pen.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:37 AM on August 15 [4 favorites]


with 10 minute bootup times

Hm. You might want to run a malware scan on that puppy.
posted by aught at 8:47 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Hee. Foreshadowing of Tux the penguin at 3:00.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:51 AM on August 15 [2 favorites]


No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:53 AM on August 15 [6 favorites]


It's pretty amazing how successful that storage technology has proved to be, almost 60 years on.

Most of the progress must have come in the last half of those 60 years, because my first hard drive in the 1980's could store only 20 million characters. Of course, it did have the advantage of being the size of a shoe box, no need to worry about how to fit it through doorways.
posted by sfenders at 9:24 AM on August 15


Interesting to note that the word "data" is never used. Around the same time, Robby the robot in "Forbidden Planet" says "I am monitored to respond to the name Robby", possibly because few people, including the screenwriters, would have encountered the verb "to program".
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:24 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Yeah, physical drives have come a long way and have never "cost" anything in terms of lost productivity, they were definitely a necessary stepping stone with no practical alternative for decades. And trust me they've been trying to find the practical spindle killer tech for those same decades. Crystals! Optical media! RAM! I mean NVRAM! No, that kind! The advances brought about by spindle storage would ultimately translate into being able to build the sort of wear leveling fault correcting logic in their successors, which are still not ready to fully replace mechanical hard drives in every application.

When we first switched to computerized radiography in health care it had completely arrived, thanks to advances in drive technology, and people would complain that it took over a minute (2003) to send an xray study to an exam room. Minds were blown when I reminded them "this is faster than developing film, innit? Like, a lot faster."

I've never seen a 10 minute boot time either except on Dell machines with video driver issues. I know it was a joke, SORT OF but my inner "you sound entitled" libertarian 14 year old pedant couldn't be stifled.
posted by aydeejones at 10:01 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


That is, a minute or two after shooting the images they were viewable in an exam room, replacing development, couriering, hanging the images. Crazy that we had gigabit ethernet and 10,000 RPM drives up to 146GB in 2003 but so many insanely expensive advances since have scaled down in price.
posted by aydeejones at 10:14 AM on August 15


Oops - forgot to throw Pi in there - more like 2000 bits per square inch.

Most of the progress must have come in the last half of those 60 years, because my first hard drive in the 1980's could store only 20 million characters.

Consider that this 20MB drive was storing data on disk about 1000 times more efficiently (if I've done my math right), and while I'm not going to do math on the price, I'd guess that it cost about 1000x less in real terms.
posted by wotsac at 11:11 AM on August 15


Talez: As I sit here listening to the shitty hard drive clicking away after ten minutes in the xw4600 behind me, I came to realize something. This invention, while ushering in a new age of human ingenuity, has cost the world untold billions if not trillions of hours in productivity.

A wise man I know once said,
"Me" and "my hard drive" top most people's list of Things Whose Inevitable Death I Refuse To Take Seriously.
posted by clawsoon at 11:44 AM on August 15 [4 favorites]


That plant apparently is still in the storage business. IBM sold the facility to Hitachi in the 00s, and Hitachi recently sold it to Western Digital.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:37 PM on August 15


When the mechanical hard drive dies the death it so sorely deserves I will not weep.

They're already starting to seem ludicrous to me, though you still need them for cost-effective storage of really large amounts of data.

Recently shopping for SSDs, I pored over performance specifications for a long time and then realized that all the decent makes were within 8% of each other and so stupid fast compared to the rust-coated Rube Goldberg variety that I should be looking at write endurance and consistency of performance rather than speed.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:57 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


SSD life span: 1-2 years
HDD life span: 5-7 years

Just sayin
posted by Gungho at 1:04 PM on August 15


Here's the full quote:
I read somewhere (I forget where now) that solid state drives are faster and such however the life span is not so good...

SSD life span (read online): 1-2 years
HDD life span (personal experience): 5-7 years
And it's a couple of years old.

SSD lifespan is all about write endurance, and for most desktop installations only a few percent of your harddrive is frequently rewritten. With the recommended overprovisioning and given the wear-leveling algorithms in the controller -- and remember to use the TRIM function in your OS if it doesn't get set automatically for aftermarket drives (I'm looking at you, Apple) . I'm sure there are some applications that could wear out an SSD in 1 or 2 years but for the vast majority of people it's not going to happen at all.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:14 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Here's one example of an endurance report:
By far the most telling takeaway thus far is the fact that all the drives have endured 600TB of writes without dying. That's an awful lot of data—well over 300GB per day for five years—and far more than typical PC users are ever likely to write to their drives. Even the most demanding power users would have a hard time pushing the endurance limits of these SSDs.
That test was on 240GB drives, so that workload is equivalent to rewriting the entire drive every day for five years, and they're still going. No normal application is going to get anywhere near that. And I wouldn't bet the farm on a mechanical drive holding up any better.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:28 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


What, no love for Bubble Memory? How quickly they forget.

(Wait, 1971 was more than 40 years ago. I guess it's not that quick.)
posted by benito.strauss at 1:54 PM on August 15 [2 favorites]


Bubble Memory might be a long-forgotten thing, but newer stuff like Memristor technology promises to be the successor. That is, if HP ever gets it into production.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:35 PM on August 15


Average seek time was 600ms

Yeah, but there were ways to work around that. I remember working on IBM and DEC removable disk packs, we would wipe them and first write the most commonly used data to the fastest tracks. A clever programmer could write a disk pack so your seeks were always short and way less than average times. This was the predecessor of optimizing and defragging. This was a monumental innovation for programmers who were used to tape drives with random access, seek times could be minutes. Sometimes access time could be hours, if the tape could not be mounted because the tape drives were all in use, or the sysops could not find your tape hanging on the rack. I liked to optimize my tapes by rewriting from one tape drive to another, getting rid of wasted space. The sysops hated that since it tied up two tape drives.

my first hard drive in the 1980's could store only 20 million characters.

LOL I worked on the early 10 and 20Mb IBM Winchesters, which most people bought as the Corvus Hard Disk System. I was a Corvus hard disk tech, they were amazing (for the time). I remember we could tweak the interleave to optimize for the speed of the system accessing it. But they were hell to service. If it got the least bit out of whack, you would get head crashes, and you could hear the head knocking into the platter with a little "ding.. ding.. ding" sound, at which point the drive was destroyed. I had one customer bring in a disk that was unreadable. You could see the platters through the translucent case, I could see there were little chips of mag media knocked right out of the surface of the platters. I said WTF man did you not hear the noise? Did you not notice that the head was knocking chips right out of the platter? He said yes, but it still worked. I told him, and now it doesn't.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:57 PM on August 15 [3 favorites]


no love for Bubble Memory?

Zero has misplaced the whole of the 13th century. Not to worry, though, it's just Dante and a few corrupt Popes. . . .
 
posted by Herodios at 8:06 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Consider that this 20MB drive was storing data on disk about 1000 times more efficiently (if I've done my math right)

Going by areal density of the magnetic media, the mid-80's disk should have been more like 10,000 times better. Which is a fairly big change for 30 years, but since 1990 it looks like storage density started increasing ten times faster than that for a decade or two.
posted by sfenders at 4:36 AM on August 16


I'm wondering when these started being called 'Hard Drives'. I worked on disk drives for IBM from 1974 to 1992, and I don't remember hearing the term before personal computers were mainstream- it was DASD or disk drives, or just 'disk'. Of course, IBM had its own vocabulary (e.g.- we didn't 'boot' mainframes back then), but I think the term came from the PC world.
Dave Jones does an (of course) entertaining HDA teardown of the last SLED IBM made, the 3390, although a lot of the 'facts' he states are incorrect. (Late 70's?, 10MB??, Halon???)
posted by MtDewd at 12:35 PM on August 27


I think you answered your own question, MtDewd. The term came into general use when it became a useful distinction from floppy disks. Looks like IBM introduced the 8" floppy in 1971 on the System/370. I don't recall encountering floppy disk systems before the 5.25" drives started to appear on CP/M systems sometime around 1977.
posted by charlie don't surf at 1:51 PM on August 28


Side note on floppies- I first encountered them while getting trained on the 370/145 in 1973. We were told to call them 'flexible diskettes' because the term 'floppy' was trademarked. (Or so my instructor stated- I've never seen this written anywhere) We called them floppies anyway.
But I don't recall hearing the term 'hard drive' until the mid-80's, so there was plenty of overlap time. I remember hearing a co-worker use the term with reference to a 3380 and getting a little offended, like, we're not talking dinky PC's here...
posted by MtDewd at 12:04 PM on August 29


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