In this column, we will have a look at the evolution of data storage from its creation until today, as technology has come a long way over the last few decades; processors are getting faster, memory in your phones and computers has increased, and hard drives have become smaller and smaller over the years.
The first commercial computer that came with a storage system was the IBM 305 RAMAC, invented in 1956. The system shipped with 50 magnetic discs, allowing to store up to five million characters. In a language that can be understood today, this represents a storage space of 5 megabytes, or MB for short; not so great considering the computer was the size of two large fridges, although it was a big improvement on the previous system, as it offered the equivalent of 64,000 punching cards.
Data storage getting smaller and better with time
Over the years, engineers worked really hard to make storage smaller, faster, and more affordable. The first Apple computer, released in 1984, had a 128KB memory and relied on floppy disks to execute programs.
In the 90s, IBM created the Titan, which was the first-ever hard drive to use giant magneto resistive heads and could store 16.8 gigabytes (GB). At the same, the company also released the Microdrive, which could store 340 MB of data on a 2.5 centimeters disk platter.
Most progress was made at the start of the new millennium when a Japanese company named Hitachi created the first 500 GB disk in history. Seagate and Western Digital followed through, with the releases of 3 Terabytes (TB) hard drives by the end of the decade.
From increased memory to speed
While it is quite common in today’s world to find hard disks with several terabytes of space available, companies have now turned their focus to speed. The old HDD is now often used to store documents and pictures, while programs, applications, and operating systems are often loaded on a new format of storage; the SSD.
While it was originally created in the 50s, the relatively high cost and low memory available were always an issue. Today, however, it is quite common to find computers with SSD drives, or even sometimes a combination between SSDs and HDDs.
What about portable storage?
Everyone should be familiar with portable storage; after all, it should not take too long to find a USB stick or an SD card lying around in your house or office.
Portable storage has also evolved drastically over the years. I remember using floppy disk at the time I was using a Commodore 64 and was so impressed when I first saw the smaller, 3.5’ version (ndlr the original floppy disks were 8’ and then 5.25’), which allowed to save up to 360 KB of data.
During the ‘90s, CD-ROM became the norm for most computers and gaming systems, allowing a whopping 650 MB of data, though it was difficult to rewrite information on the disk, making it a good medium to view and use data, but not to save your daily work.
The DVD followed in 1995, allowing to save more than 4 GB of data, and was used extensively in the movie industry, replacing the old VHS with products of a much better quality. We are currently looking at the death of the DVD, with more and more companies preferring digital downloads and other options, such as the USBs and SD cards.
To give an order of magnitude, the largest-capacity USB, the HyperX Predator, currently offers 1 TB of storage, not larger than the size of your thumb. This represents the equivalent of 2,7 million floppy disks or 1.5 million CDs. With that in mind, we can’t wait to see what the future has to offer.