50 Years of the Hard Drive and Hitachi celebrate HDD storage breakthrough


Fifty years ago today IBM delivered the world’s first hard disc drive – the RAMAC (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control) – with a massive 5 megabytes of storage housed in a fridge-sized box weighing a ton and with disc platters of over 24 inches in diameter. It needed compressed air to work, and cost over $50,000 (1956 money).

Groundbreaking indeed – the start of a journey that today sees tiny hard drives with comparatively phenomenal storage capacities powering music players, personal video recorders, and of course PCs.

And still Hitachi, one of the first manufacturers to develop hard drives, have continued to innovate and push the storage boundaries. They’ve reached an areal density (the number of bits of data that can be recorded onto the surface of a disk or platter) of 345 gigabits per square inch using Perpendicular Magnetic Recording (PMR) technology. That’s more than 2.5 times the storage capacity of current storage devices – all tested in the lab, of course.

More sophisticated storage techniques such as patterned media (reducing the number of magnetic grains used to store one bit of data) and thermally-assisted recording (using a laser to heat the recording surface and therefore allow smaller magnetic grains to be used that otherwise would be thermally unstable at room temperature) will push storage capacities through the roof, according to Hitachi, who expect to see small 1 terabyte drives and beyond by 2010, with households having between 10 and 20 hard drives in a variety of applications.

There are some that say that the hard drive may soon have had its day, with the technological and storage advances of flash memory, but I think the hard drive has got a lot of life left in it yet. What do you think?

Wikipedia entry on Hard discs

Andy Merrett
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