The monstrous hard drives of the past make us put in perspective the miracle of miniaturization The monstrous hard drives of the past make us put in perspective the miracle of miniaturization
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Nowadays, it is normal to have 32 or 64 GB of capacity in our mobile devices, and that capacity is multiplied by several orders... The monstrous hard drives of the past make us put in perspective the miracle of miniaturization 3.5

Nowadays, it is normal to have 32 or 64 GB of capacity in our mobile devices, and that capacity is multiplied by several orders of magnitude in our PCs and laptops.

Storage technology has advanced incredibly in all these years, and to assess that evolution is not a bad idea to take a little trip to the past and see how decades ago hard disks were heavy and cumbersome monsters that also had a capacity and benefits very limited.

The first example of that evolution is in the IBM RAMAC 305 , a monster that appeared in 1956 and was capable of storing 5 MB thanks to a system with 50 “plates” of 24 inches. That device rotated at a speed of 600 revolutions per minute and generated so much heat that it was necessary to enclose it in a large “refrigerator” with two cooling systems.


Another curious fact about this product is that IBM already thought of a subscription model to get profitability: customers who wanted to use this product had to pay $ 3,200 a month, equivalent to almost $ 30,000 today with inflation .


Miniaturization would still take years to reach an industry that was trying to advance especially in the area of ​​storage capacity: customers demanded more capacity, and those 24-inch dishes were, as seen in the image, enormous . In this case, these models reached 10 MB capacity per disk.

The giant of the time, IBM, dominated the sector for years, and in 1962 the company created the first “removable” units. The IBM 1311 Disk Storage Drive used the IBM 1316 “disk packs” that allowed the company’s customers to expand their customized needs. Of the 24 inches of the previous discs was passed to 14 inches, with 2 Mbytes for each “pack”.


Another of those storage devices was Unidisc , a storage expansion that appeared in 1962 for Univac 1004/1005 computers. That “flexible” disk similar to those used by IBM had a diameter of 14 inches and was capable of holding 2 Mbytes of information. The unit in which the disk was inserted was about the size of a washing machine.

At that time there were several manufacturers that tried to be leaders in a promising sector, and among them was Burroughs, a manufacturer of mainframes that for example launched this unit of 250 MB in 1979. A true marvel that used, attentive, regenerative braking : when it was turned off, the motor became a magnetic brake: if it did not, the discs continued to rotate for an average of 4 hours.

Some years before, IBM had already launched its new hard drive technology, the so-called “Winchester” . The IBM 3340 unit had a smaller, lighter read / write head that had a design that allowed it to travel that surface at a negligible distance.

Things would advance from that moment even more quickly especially in the field of miniaturization (more or less) and the capacity of some units that for example in 1980 already reached the gigabyte with the 3380 unit of IBM.

That year 1980 is also the “disk pack” Mark XIV of Memorex of the header image that was advertised as an “error-free” system. It had a capacity of 80 MB and was intended for Memorex disk drives that were again the size of a washing machine.

The units of 5¼ would soon give place to those of 3.5 inches , that would arrive first of the hand of the company Rodime (with ex-employees of Burroughs, by the way). Their devices were capable of storing 6.38 and 12.75 Mbytes and would initiate a real trend in the market of PCs and laptops.


Users’ needs continued to impose smaller formats, and that led to the 2.5-inch units that are currently especially widespread for use in the segment of solid-state drives.

SSD units in M.2 NVMe format are a real prodigy in terms of read and write speeds, although in cost per gigabyte traditional hard drives continue to win.
The rest, as they say, is history: 3.5-inch units are still used massively now, but that revolution would follow a few years ago the solid state drives or SSD (especially in M ​​format). .2) that have allowed unthinkable reading and writing speeds only a decade ago.


In the field of capacity and cost per gigabyte, yes, those traditional hard drives are still (for now) the kings of the market, but if we want examples of miniaturization , the 1 TB units that SanDisk presented at CES 2019 have The curl was curled again. And what remains.

John Hartshorne

Senior IT engineer by the UPM of training and technical editor by profession, I have been writing in print and online media since the late 90s.