THROWBACK THURSDAY: Old Hard Drives

The day of the mechanical hard drive is almost over. Truth is, no one really wants one, which is why you can get incredibly massive ones so cheaply. I mean, one terabyte for $50? I remember paying $250 for an 80 gigabyte hard drive and thinking that was a bargain. Wasn’t even that long ago.

Yeah, today everyone wants a computer with a solid state drive that runs cool and quiet and super fast. The old mechanical hard drive will probably be a dinosaur by the time the decade is out.

It’s had a good run though. Ernie Smith’s Tedium blog takes a deep dive into the history of hard drives, starting with the first one, IBM’s RAMAC from 1956. This monstrosity was about the size of a very large refrigerator and held, give or take, about five megabytes of stuff. About enough for one song or one medium-sized photo. You leased it from IBM for $3,200 per month, which even sounds like a lot of money today, but in those days — a top-of-the-line luxury car cost about $5,000. Your average American made about $3,500 per year. This was an expensive bit of kit, as they say.

Of course it was the first of its kind and over the years hard drives got smaller and cheaper. By the 1980s it was possible to get a 10 megabyte hard drive for under $1,000 and I remember the computer I bought in 1999 and its 200 megabyte hard drive. The whole computer was about $1,500.

Of course times change and just like other devices once thought to be essential for computers, the hard drive is fading away. It will join the tub monitor, floppy drive, and modem as something we only remember in passing, while computers continue to get more powerful every year. Hard drives in server farms will go on a lot longer, so in a way we will be using them still, we just won’t realize it.

So enjoy this one last throwback to this technology which has served us so well for so long, and then think about that phone in your hand and how one day it too will seem like a throwback.