2A Curator of Disk Drive History:
Jim Porter, longtime digital storage expert and creator of the Disk/Trend industry reports for more than two decades, also is the creator and maintainer of the IDEMA Technology Showcase, a walk down Memory (literally!) Lane for engineers of a certain age. Porter exhibits all the key technologies in the history of the spinning disk drive at DISKCON, held this year on Sept. 23 and 24 in Santa Clara, Calif.
The first-ever disk drive: The 6-foot-tall IBM RAMAC disk storage drive, which marked its 50th birthday in September 2006, was the first commercial hard drive. It was roughly the size of a refrigerator. This is the 350 Disk Storage Unit, designed and built in San Jose, Calif., in what would eventually become known as Silicon Valley. This first computing unit had a total memory storage capacity of 5MB on 50 24-inch platters. Only two heads were used to read the disks. See also: “IBM Builds on 50 Years of Spinning Disk Storage”
Paul Hofemann, vice president of marketing and business development at Molecular Imprints of Austin, Texas, was a speaker at this year’s DISKCON. Here, to add a little perspective to the photo, he stands next to a dinosaurlike 39-inch Bryant Computer 4240 spinning disk, circa 1961. As one of the largest disk drives ever made, it worked in a group of 30 similar disks; the unit was so heavy that it had to be bolted to a cement floor so that the centrifugal force of the spinning drives wouldn’t dislodge the unit. Compare this to an iPod Nano. How far we’ve come!
The IBM 3334 Disk Drive and 3348 Data Module (for storage) came out in 1973 and was called the Winchester. Why? As Jim Porter tells it: “Every IBM project had to have a code name. When Ken Haughton, who was in charge of this project, saw that this was to have 30MB of permanent storage and 30MB of removable storage on the same machine, he said: ‘That’s 30-30. We’ll call it Winchester.'” (He named it after the .30-30 Winchester cartridge that was first marketed in early 1895 for the Winchester Model 1894 lever-action rifle.) It was the first hard drive with low-mass heads, lubricated disks and sealed assembly. This technology is still very much alive today, albeit in more advanced forms.
In 1976, Shugart Associates (later Shugart Technologies, then Seagate Technology) joined forces with Wang Laboratories to produce the first 5.25-inch floppy drive, which was used for years in early IBM and Apple personal computers. Why was the 5.25-inch disk size selected? Interesting story, as Jim Porter tells it: “Well, the guys from Schugart and Wang got together to discuss the project, and they went out to a bar one night for drinks. One of them looked at the cocktail napkin and said, ‘That’s looks like a good size for the disk we want to make.’ So it made it into the instructions for Shugart back in the Bay Area to make a floppy disk drive the size of a cocktail napkin—5.25 inches square.” All that for 218K capacity.
SyQuest Technology in 1992 brought out its SQ3105, the first 3.5-inch cartridge disk drive. It held 110MB of storage. This was an entirely different concept, in that the drive and storage media were self-contained and simply plugged into a data reader. This technology is still very much alive today in more advanced forms.
Hitachi had the honor of showing the smallest HDD at DISKCON: the 1-inch, single-platter Hitachi GST Microdrive 3K8, which launched in 2005. Capacity: 8GB; transfer rate: 33MB/second. Compare this to Slide 6!