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back to article Celebrating the 55th anniversary of the hard disk

All anniversaries are special, and so is this one. It's particularly special because a billion or more people have been and are being affected by it every day. They switch on their PCs and take advantage of Intel processors and Microsoft's Windows, or Mac OS, thinking nothing of it. But before these, and providing a foundation …

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ql
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I like these types of article

Especially the history articles dealing with bits within my time in IT. My first disk, other than the microdrives in my QL -see handle, was 20MB in the mid 80s and I longed for a 40MB version. In 1990, we bought a new two 650MB disk for two Netware Compaq servers at a cost of £10k each. By 1996, I was arguing with the Ops guys that using quotas for individuals' disk space requirements was more expensive than just buying more disk. In the last couple of months, I bought an HP Microserver for just over £100 (£200 less the £100 cashback) and added a 2TB disk for less than £60 - virtually petty cash. Feels good.

Ta, Big Blue.

S

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Happy

Me 2, spent the cashback on 8gb of ram an 2tb drive...

Scares me when i think my first PC only had a 1gb drive which was considered excessively large at the time, (I am under 30 so Pentium 100 is over half my life ago ;-) ), never mind the 8mb of ram it had cost double if not triple the £40 or so i paid for my new ram....

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Mushroom

"Well, most of the time. Oh, what was that noise, that rending metallic sound? Oh, no, I've had a head crash. My data, oh good Lord, my data"

Ahhh fond memories...

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Head crash

Umpteen years back, when removable disk drives with those platter packs described in another reply were present at about every site:

Site manager (wiping the inside of such a disk drive, with visible deposits of brown-gray dust, with his finger): "What's this?"

Disk technician (busy getting ready with repairing the drive after, obviously, a head crash): "Your data."

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Facepalm

Ah yes, apart from this was a pet hate for me with laptop users who drop their laptop and then say Ops I forgot to backup my laptop and when we had a bit of Arcserve (Hidious bandwidth hog) software to back them up "Oh it was taking to long so I keep quitting it when I log on to VPN, but all my files will be there right?"

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Pedant alert

"But dinosaurs were our ancestors"

No, sadly they weren't. We share a common ancestor with them, about 310 million years ago. So, something like your 15million x great grandpa and grandma could have had both you, and dinosaurs as their descendants.

Notwithstanding that, an interesting article. I recall Winchester drives in the late 70s, I had no idea just how far back their heritage went. I feel duly educated.

Carry on - and have a good weekend all.

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RAMAC was not quite the first

Elliott had a thing called the ENRDC-401 in 1953, three years before RAMAC. Very few were made, however.

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"dinosaurs were our ancestors"

Really? Are you one of the lizard people, that David Icke warned us about?

Sorry, this really has no bearing on the main point of the article, which was excellent.

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Linux

Too much Doctor Who

Someone has been watching just a little too much Doctor Who and has themselves confused with a Silurian.

Some people fixate on Marilyn Monroe. I guess someone was bound to think that they are a Silurian sooner or later...

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I don't think think you humans are descended from dinosaurs; however, I have seen some who aren't too far down the road from fish. I have also met a couple who conform to Wodehouse's description of "looks like a parrot dragged backwards through a privet hedge".

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This was a great article. I really enjoy these.

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Pint

Lest we forget

Let's also blow a trumpet for Rodime, the Scottish-based company who (arguably) invented the modern HDD as we know it.

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Happy

Ha!

In the office I worked in the 80's, we discussed which way to mount the drive to make it last longest. Seagates I think were better mounted flat, but Quantums were better on their edge. Rodimes would fail which ever way you mounted them.....

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Anonymous Coward

Why no built in RAID?

Whilst I like more space for less money, there is a point at which I'd like the standard, single hard disk to have RAID built in. Perhaps an in-device RAID controller and split platters mirroring their data, in a plug-and-go style device.

Then at least if it failed, it would drop to non-resilient, but wouldn't nerf your data.

Yes - I know. To all the anoraks who say - buy a RAID controller and 2 disks, and configure hardware mirroring. I'm talking about having all 'single' disks inside PCs as 'built in RAID' by default.

Perhaps this is the future of disk design?

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Meh

Only Problem is...

The mechanism you described would only protect against a failure of the medium. If any of the shared components (firmware, platter motor, head assembly, etc.) failed, you'd still lose all of your data as the entire drive would become unusable. With two separate disks, you get better redundancy for very little more money and less complexity overall.

As for medium failures, most modern hard drives already come with spare sectors and built-in error detection and remapping capabilities.

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Re: Why no built in RAID?

Sounds great, until bearing failure simultaneously writes off all the platters. Or the controller fails. Or indeed, the heads crash (yes, on all platters). In fact the only thing it would protect against is a read error on the actual disk surface. Those tend to be fairly rare compared to other forms of disk failure.

Throwing redundancy in in a half baked manner such as that achieves precisely nothing. The reason you do not see such drives it that it make absolutely no sense to make or use them.

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Single disk raid 0 might work better

For redundancy separate disks make sense. For speed raid on a single disk might make sense. As the article says we've got from one head for multiple platters, why not extend to multiple heads per platter? Will still be beaten by SSD for pure speed, but might be a viable cost-vs-speed compromise between an SSD and a one head per platter spinning disk.

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Anonymous Coward

I concur... raid0-in-a-box...

Slap 4 x 300GB platters in a 3.5 box, go for a raid0, or raid each 2 platters for larger cap. or raid (5? 6?), sell it as a faster 600GB+ HDD... or even, (what the hell) let the user do the raiding choice.

I have a sata disk that reads 90MB/s sequential, so this box should read 170, 180-ish MB/s sequential, which is half or third of a SSD, but holding 2x or 4x as much, at a fraction of the cost of a SSD. Great for entry level enthusiasts who can't afford SSD.

I see a market niche right there. If this thing goes RAID0, it can get up to SSD sequential access speeds, if the controller scales well. And my assumptions can be outdated, so we have denser platters and faster HDDs...

If there is a price point there, a compromise... someone can do the math...

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The right stuff!

Articles like this rule the roost, they bring back memories to those of us who are old enough to remember the yesteryear era of computing whilst enlightening the new, younger generation of techs about the era they [fortunately or unfortunately] missed

Being an old[ish] boy in this game, I recall the multiple 12 inch hard disk drives with a massive 30MB capacity we used in our AOS/VS mainframes.

We had to power them down and use a special key to lock the write head whenever we performed maintenance on these boxes.

A few years later replaced them with a 256MB 3.5" SCSI disk, although they were full height. We were astounded at how technology was shrinking at the time

Today we're spoiled for choice when it comes to the capacities and costs of rotating storage, but El Reg never seems to forget where it all hailed from

Thank you....

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Anonymous Coward

I rememer the time when doing a daily backup meant taking the disk platter out of the PDP and weekly backups were taking the tape down the road to the offsite storage location. The memories of being a computer operator - does the job still exist or is everyone now a system manager, network manager, etc?

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Before my time ...

But I used to be in business with a chap who still used to use "Winchester" when referring to hard disks.

I still recall the "big step forward" when personal computers gained the option of internal hard disks. And of course, the excitement when the price dropped to a milestone £1/MByte.

Ah, nostalgia isn't what it used to be ! I'm with the others, more of this sort of article please.

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bjr

Origin of the nickname Winchester

For those to young to remember the term "Winchester" was first applied to the IBM Model 3030 drive (3030 get it?) which was the first drive where the heads were in contact with the platters. All similar drives were called Winchesters in the 80s, the term fell out of favor as PCs became the dominant form of computer and term hard drive was used to distinguish them from floppy drives.

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Technical correction

'Winchester" was the code name of a sealed removable cassette containing both platters and a set of heads, and the heads weren't in contact with the platters - they flew on an air layer that was dragged round with the disk.

The RAMAC head, OTOH, didn't fly. The rotation speed was low - similar to a floppy (another contact device) and was loaded onto the disk and unloaded very similarly to a floppy disk. The head traveled up the stack to the platter it needed, swung in to the required track and was then loaded onto the surface to read or write a block of data. I've never used a RAMAC but have seen one. In the mid '70s IBM used to have fantastic displays in the street-level window of their 6th Ave, NYC building. One of them showed all their disk tech from the RAMAC up to their latest and greatest DASD of the day.

OTT, they built the flight computers for the Gemini and Apollo capsules. I remember seeing them in that window too, but I digress....

I came into the business by programming ICL mainframes in 1968. We too had disk drives - 10 surfaces in a removable 8 MB cartridge. The heads flew on these disks, which spun at 2800 rpm and had an average access speed of around 135 mS.

Unlike the Winchester, these cartridges weren't in sealed cassettes and the heads were a permanent part of the drive. To swap disk packs, you opened the drive's cover, dropped a transparent cylindrical cover over the disk pack, turned a handle and lifted, put a flat cover on the bottom to seal the disk from dust, and carted it away. Putting one on was the opposite: turning the handle locked the disk onto its spindle and detached it from the cover.

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Happy

Fond memories

"And of course, the excitement when the price dropped to a milestone £1/MByte."

Ah, I well remember the thrill of unpacking and installing a Digital DSP3105 1.05GB SCSI-2 hard disk in my 486DX266 machine with 16Mb of memory. £850 for just of 1GB seemed amazingly cheap, and I never thought I'd fill all that space....

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I remember it well.

Back in 1968-69 I worked for IBM at Gunnersbury Park (Chiswick). I remember a mate of mine, a programmer, showing me a 'disk pack'. It was just as Martin Gregorie above describes, except, it was branded IBM. The programmer told me it was made by ICL and branded IBM because they just couldn't use an ICL branded device at IBM Head Office now, could they.

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There's nothing like nostalgia

When external 1Gb SCSI disk got below £1000 in the 90s we bought one for every Sparc workstation - imagine having all your data available all the time without having to use tapes!

I just bought a 2TB external drive for >$99 to keep movies on.

The odd bit is we are still using file systems designed around those original 1950s drives

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So the cost has dropped from 4,915,200 pounds per gigabyte then to one or two pence per gigabyte now.

Looked at another way it would have cost about 25,000 pounds to store on photograph from my smartphone.

Blimey ...

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Joke

Yeah, but...

once you account for inflation, the price has actually gone up slightly.

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Memories...

"once upon a time there was no online data stored separately from a program's data in the computer's dynamic memory, which, of course, disappeared as soon as the application stopped running. "

I was told a story buy a now long retired colleague which was about how when working for ICL in the sixties, he sold a second hand magnetic drum storage unit to a firm in Australia. The thing was crated up and shipped via steam-ship around the horn and was duly plugged in in Sydney 8 weeks later. When they fired it up, it still had the last program that was run on it, er, on it. If you get my drift.

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Alert

Why Drums?

Didn't anyone pay attention to Music? Edison's Phonograph (drum) was awkward and "blown away" by the disc.

Emile Berliner Gramophone discs from 1886!

http://www.techtir.ie/history/innovators

So why did ANYONE ever build a magnetic drum and not go straight to disc storage? The machines to cut masters even had linear tracking servo arms.

I've never understood why drum storage was built.

We are lucky I suppose that the first optical drive was disc (Sony/Philips CD) and not a drum.

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Applause

Happy birthday!

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Holmes

Why drums?

Because there were tough technical problems that had to be solved to build disk drives. Consider - drum storage had a single rotating cylinder with constant circumference, and fixed read/write heads aligned over every track. All it had to do was spin. To make a disk work you had to solve the problem of moving the read/write heads to the proper location, aligning with the track you needed on the fly, and then reading the data from media moving at at varying rates depending on the distance from the center of the platter. Much, much more complex.

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Ah, memories ...

As a teenager, I briefly had a job as a keypunch operator, transferring info from medical billing records onto punchcards at a small, well, computer/data services business, I suppose it would have been. I remember low cabinets with stacks of discs inside, probably some successors of those pictured.

I will always remember the owners speaking, in awed yet eager tones, about how 'someday soon' punchcards would be eliminated, that data would be entered directly into the computers.

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WFW
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305 RAMAC as cargo

It weighed about a ton.

See: http://www.yellow-llama.com/whats-being-loaded-into-this-plane/

I think I found this using stumbleon.

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Fujitsu Pragmatics PD-40M

That was our 1st 40MB $5,000 drive on our S-100 system, and it had a clear plastic cover where you could see the platters spin and the heads move. 8 platters IIRC. And it went THUNK loudly every time the heads stepped.

Thanks for the article. Where did you manage to dig up the modern pic of the internals?

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Tiny Drums are Better than Tiny Disks

I think one little known fact is that as the sizes of disks and drums are reduced, tiny drums provide more surface per volume than disks. Future HDDs may be hard drum drives.

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Ahh, nostalgia! It isn't what it used to be.

Mere children all of you.

I started in a bank in the early 60'swhich had just bought a computer to enable on-line banking, and by that I don't mean over the internet but simply that a customers balance and transactions were available to the bank teller.

It was the latest model IBM System 360 Model 30 complete with 32 Kb (yes, that's kilobytes, not megabytes) of memory and a string of about 8 IBM 2311 removable disk drives of 7.2b Mb capacity each giving a total of 58Mb for the whole online banking customer dataset.

See picture here at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/computinghistory/2311.html

Check out the spec on those babies! And then what your phone can do!!

The operating system was IBM DOS, not even VM, and the banking program we bought had it's own built in version of cycling sections of program into memory to execute. Very linear, but several transactions at the same time, each bunch being executed in that part of the program before queuing the transactions until the next bit of the program was read into memory.

Ahh the speed. I also remember developing programs by punching program instructions into punch cards and taking a whole tray of several thousand cards down to the computer room to be loaded in order to run one test. Then the sheer joy of dropping said tray and having to pick up and re-sort all the cards by hand as we didn't at that stage have a card sorter.

We were so excited at the advent of terminals where we could type a program and actually run a test from our desks, before getting the printout of the result in order to debug the program.

Mmmmmmm, fun!!!!

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Mushroom

80MB

My first job after Uni involved writing software for the Northwest German Lotto. Normally we would develop in the UK, copy onto 8" floppies, and install at the customer's site. But we also had a big Winchester disk that lived in a kind of bell jar with several platters all stacked up, looking somewhat technical and mysterious to the uninformed.

It had 80MB written on the top of it in blocky letters, so the 8 looked very much like a 'B' - I dreaded taking it through customs...

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Black Helicopters

@80MB

It's just as well the world of disks has moved on as you definitely would not get through airport security carrying one these days.

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