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HARD DISK DRIVE GUIDE
A Brief History of the Hard Disk Drive
Last updated: 5/19/2005

The hard disk drive has short and fascinating history.  In 24 years it evolved from a monstrosity with fifty two-foot diameter disks holding five MBytes (5,000,000 bytes) of data to today's drives measuring 3 /12 inches wide and an inch high (and smaller) holding 400 GBytes (400,000,000,000 bytes/characters).  Here, then, is the short history of this marvelous device.

Before the disk drive there were drums... In 1950 Engineering Research Associates of Minneapolis built the first commercial magnetic drum storage unit for the U.S. Navy, the ERA 110.  It could store one million bits of data and retrieve a word in 5 thousandths of a second.

In 1956 IBM invented the first computer disk storage system, the 305 RAMAC (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control).  This system could store five MBytes.  It had fifty, 24-inch diameter disks!

By 1961 IBM had invented the first disk drive with air bearing heads and in 1963 they introduced the removable disk pack drive.

In 1970 the eight inch floppy disk drive was introduced by IBM.  My first floppy drives were made by Shugart who was one of the "dirty dozen" who left IBM to start their own companies.  In 1981 two Shugart 8 inch floppy drives with enclosure and power supply cost me about $350.00.  They were for my second computer.  My first computer had no drives at all.

In 1973 IBM shipped the model 3340 Winchester sealed hard disk drive, the predecessor of all current hard disk drives.  The 3340 had two spindles each with a capacity of 30 MBytes, and the term "30/30 Winchester" was thus coined.

Seagate ST4053 40 MByte
5 1/4 inch, full-height "clunker"
with ST506 interface and voice coil
circa 198
7. My cost was $435.00.

In 1980, Seagate Technology introduced the first hard disk drive for microcomputers, the ST506.  It was a full height (twice as high as most current 5 1/4" drives) 5 1/4" drive, with a stepper motor, and held 5 Mbytes.  My first hard disk drive was an ST506.  I cannot remember exactly how much it cost, but it plus its enclosure, etc. was well over a thousand dollars.  It took me three years to fill the drive.  Also, in 1980 Phillips introduced the first optical laser drive.  In the early 80's, the first 5 1/4" hard disks with voice coil actuators (more on this later) started shipping in volume, but stepper motor drives continued in production into the early 1990's.   In 1981, Sony shipped the first 3 1/2" floppy drives.

In 1983 Rodime made the first 3.5 inch rigid disk drive.  The first CD-ROM drives were shipped in 1984, and "Grolier's Electronic Encyclopedia," followed in 1985.  The 3 1/2" IDE drive started its existence as a drive on a plug-in expansion board, or "hard card."  The hard card included the drive on the controller which, in turn, evolved into Integrated Device Electronics (IDE) hard disk drive, where the controller became incorporated into the printed circuit on the bottom of the hard disk drive.   Quantum made the first hard card in 1985.

In 1986 the first 3 /12" hard disks with voice coil actuators were introduced by Conner in volume, but half (1.6") and full height 5 1/4" drives persisted for several years.  In 1988 Conner introduced the first one inch high 3 1/2" hard disk drives.  In the same year PrairieTek shipped the first 2 1/2" hard disks.

In 1997 Seagate introduced the first 7,200 RPM, Ultra ATA hard disk drive for desktop computers and in February of this year they introduced the first 15,000 RPM hard disk drive, the Cheetah X15.  Milestones for IDE DMA, ATA/33, and ATA/66 drives follow:

  • 1994 DMA, Mode 2 at 16.6 MB/s
  • 1997 Ultra ATA/33 at 33.3 MB/s
  • 1999 Ultra ATA/66 at 66.6 MB/s

6/20/00  IBM triples the capacity of the world's smallest hard disk drive.  This drive holds one gigabyte on a disk which is the size of an American quarter.  The world's first gigabyte-capacity disk drive, the IBM 3380, introduced in 1980, was the size of a refrigerator, weighed 550 pounds (about 250 kg), and had a price tag of $40,000.

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References.

1. The Computer Museum History Center  Interesting site with pictures.

2.  A history of IBM "firsts" in storage technology

5.  COMPUTING MACHINES

6. Disk drives take eventful spin by George Rostky

Copyright, Disclaimer, and Trademark Information Copyright © 1996-2006 Larry F. Byard.  All rights reserved. This material or parts thereof may not be copied, published, put on the Internet, rewritten, or redistributed without explicit, written permission from the author.