Chronology of Hard Drives: Inception to Infinite Possibilities

Some of the first computers had no storage devices. Each time a program was run, it had to be entered manually. This arduous process brought about the realization that if computers were to be truly useful, they needed some type of permanent storage.

The first storage medium was actually paper. Holes were punched into paper tape or punch cards to record programs or data. A special reader was used to scan the cards or tape. It contained a beam of light and if a hole was found it read a 1. If the light was blocked it read a 0.

Next came magnetic tape. Information was recorded in a way similar to how audio is recorded on tape. Magnetic tape was faster, more flexible and more durable than paper media, but made random access impractical since it must be read linearly. Magnetic tape is still used today as a form of secondary storage.

The First Hard Drives

The first hard drives were used commercially by IBM in 1956. In September of that year, they introduced both the IBM 350 storage unit, invented by Reynold Johnson, and the IBM RAMAC 305 computer in which it was housed. The IBM 350 stored 5 million 7-bit characters. This was equivalent to about 4.4 megabytes. There were 50 24-inch diameter disks with 100 recording surfaces that each had 100 tracks. These disks spun at 1200 RPM, and transferred data at a rate of 8,000 characters per second. Several improved models followed in the 1950s.

In 1961, the IBM 1301 Disk Storage Unit was developed. It introduced the usage of a head for each data surface with the heads having self-acting air bearings, or flying heads. It stored 28 million characters on 20 large disks with 40 recording surfaces. Each recording surface had 250 tracks. The 1301 Model 1 had one module and the disks spun at 1800 RPM, allowing the data to transfer at a rate of 90,000 characters per second. Model 2 had two vertically stacked modules with the same number of disks and transfer rate as Model 1. Both were designed to be used on a mainframe. A major advance was the use of a separate arm and head for each recording surface. This eliminated the time needed for the arm to pull the head out of one disk and move to a new disk and also made seeking the desired track faster. Aerodynamic heads allowed for improved recording and performance.

The first disk drive that was removable was the IBM 1311 drive, which used the IBM 1316 disk pack to store two million characters.

In 1973, the IBM 3340 was equipped with the Winchester disk drive. This was the first significant commercial use of both low mass and low load heads in conjunction with lubricated media. Today, all modern disk drives use this technology, or something similar. It was so named because plans called for it to have two 30 MB spindles; the actual product shipped with two spindles for modules of either 35 MB or 70MB of data.

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Hard Drives Today
Since the1980s, and the inception of the PC era, there has been tremendous advancement in the hard drive industry. The IBM 3380 was released in 1980 as the world's first disk drive that could hold 1GB. It was comparable in size and weight to a refrigerator and cost $40,000.

During 1986, the 16-bit parallel interface, or ATA, was presented to the public. Since then, it has undergone numerous changes to decrease the size and make it faster. It is also known as IDE, Parallel ATA, PATA and ATAPI. The latest version of ATA (ATA-7) was introduced in 2001, supporting data transfer at 133MB/sec.<

The year 1991 brought the introduction of the 2.5-inch hard drive. It could hold 100MB. Along came the 1.3 inch hard drive in the C3013A by Hewlett-Packard in 1992, along with Micro Drives from IBM that were capable of storing 170MB or 340 MB.

The development of Serial-ATA (SATA) in 2003 was a great advancement in hard drive technology. This was followed in 2005 by the shipping of the first hard drives that could hold 500GB and by the standardization of SATA 3G. Toshiba also began using perpendicular recording in consumer hard disk drives at this time, while Seagate brought TMR or Tunnel Magneto Resistive Sensor into production.

Hard drives are sold today that hold 750 GB. That is over 150,000 times more data than the original RAMAC. These drives measure 3.5 inches across and weigh only a few ounces. Hitachi sells hard drives that hold 1 terabyte or 1000 gigabytes. Prices average just under $100 for 1 TB and slightly over $150 for 1.5 TB.

Future Hard Drive Technology
Patterned media technology works on the principle of creating a magnetic layer on the platters by arranging small areas of magnetic material. Each area stores a single bit. This reduces the superparamagnetism effect and allows an increase in the areal density. Hitachi is currently developing this technology.

Thermal assisted recording uses highly stable media such as iron platinum alloy .The magnetic material is preheated by laser to ensure the magnetization remains stable. It is then capable of storing bits in a much smaller area, thus avoiding the superparamagnetic effect. Toshiba is currently working on this process.

Both of these technologies, when developed, will reduce the amount of space required to store data as well as eliminate or reduce the superparamagnetism effect that causes data loss in current hard drives. The combination of both technologies could produce hard drives capable of storing 50 to 100 Terabytes of data per square inch.

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