Saturday, June 24, 2006

Modern Mechanix » 1956: World’s First Hard Drive (5MB)

Modern Mechanix » 1956: World’s First Hard Drive (5MB)In many ways, this represents the birth of modern computing as much as the first micro-processor, though its hard to see a resemblance between this hulking behemoth and the 200gb 3.5″ 1/4 height drive in your computer, but functionally speaking, this hard drive is the original progenitor of yours.

A few things struck me in this, and made me chuckle. The awe over “5,000,000 characters” (less than 5mb really) is a bit quaint from today’s perspective, but in an era where you measured storage capacity in the bytes of vacuum tubes, it represents a truly monstrous storage capacity. As well, the notion of “Random Access Memory Accounting” or RAMAC is fundamental to everything we do in computers today, and represents a wholly new way of doing things over the sequential access of tape, or the hard-wiring of tubes and cables. While it seems a simple idea today, the technical challenges involved with essentially being able to access any of 5 million data bytes at any time are daunting … even after the challenge of actually STORING the information … just finding it again was a huge technical issue. The RAM memory chips, the way your hard drive works, the very way you compute, is based this notion of RAMAC.

Even the 1200rpm spin rate is impressive given the context. In today’s world of super high speed access to 300gb of data at a time, the disk platters spin in the 7200rpm range for a decent drive. For the first device, constructed half a century ago, 1200rpm seems a very high platter speed … shame the article doesn’t translate that to a data transfer rate, lol.


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