A Look into the Evolution of Storage Devices [1956-2013]

Since the invention of computers and various computing devices, data storage capacity has always been a major concern. As computers got more advanced, data size increased thus creating an everlasting demand for increased storage capacity.

Data storage devices have evolved drastically from being large trunks with the capacity to hold a few kilobytes of data, to microchips able to hold a few gigabytes of data.

In this article we will be looking at how these storage devices, both Hard Disks and Flash Storage Devices, have become what they are at present.

PS: You may also be interested in our articles on different console modifications or computer hackers who make computing interesting.

The Evolution of Storage Devices

1956 – IBM 350

IBM 350

The IBM 350 was the first disk drive introduced by IBM, and was the size of a large wardrobe, but contained a very small amount of data compared to today’s data size, but back then it was a major invention.

It had a data storage capacity of about 3.75MB and was available on lease at $3,200 per month. Way too expensive? But this was the only choice back then.

1961 – IBM 1301

IBM 1301

Though the physical size didn’t change much, the IBM 1301 had greater storage capacity than the IBM 350 and was the first ever hard disk drive to use heads that were designed to float in thin air over the tracks and read data from the disks.

The IBM 1301 took a leap in terms of storage with respect to its predecessor and had the capacity to hold about 19MB of data and was available on lease for $2,100 per month or could be purchased at the hefty price of $115,500.

1962 – IBM 1311

IBM 1311

Finally the issue of physical space needed to accommodate a hard disk drive was realized and hard disk drives started to get a little smaller, from large wardrobes to a pretty small box, and the IBM 1311 was a good example of it, looking considerably like a washing machine. Due to the change in its dimensions it saved a lot of space and also had better components which did a better job than its predecessors.

This was the first hard disk drive to introduce removable disk packs, each disk pack containing about 2 million characters. It had twice the recording density than the previous version.

This disk drive had special features such as “Scan Disk”, “Direct Seek”, “Track Record” and “Seek Overlap”.

1964 – IBM 2311

IBM 2311

This model looked similar to the previous version, but certainly had a lot more capacity and better performance than its predecessor. This hard disk drive stored about 7.25MB of data in a single removable disk pack, and offered good data transfer rate of about 156KB/s.

So it was like a revamped version of the previous one with better capacity and slightly smaller dimensions.

1965 - IBM 2314

IBM 2314

Finally a little change in the appearance, and also quite a lot of improvements too. The IBM 2314 had the capacity to store 29MB of data in a single disk pack, and of course these disk packs could be removed and added. The data rate was about doubled, from about 156KB/s to 310KB/s.

The fun fact about this hard disk drive is that, because of its appearance it was called a “Pizza Oven”, and I agree with this name. So first “wardrobes”, then “washing machines” and now “pizza ovens”, let’s see how far it gets.

1970 – IBM 3330

IBM 3330

After years of development, IBM managed to pack all the components of a hard disk drive into a much smaller shell. Less physical space and portability has always been a priority for electronic devices, and thus IBM gave its customers exactly what they needed.

The IBM 3330 codenamed “Merlin”, was considerably smaller than the previous model, stored about 100MB of data in each disk pack, and offered a great data transfer rate of about 806KB/s.

One of the best and most notable features of this hard disk drive was the use of error correction methods to tolerate small imperfections on the disk surface, and thus reducing costs and making them robust.

1976 – IBM 3350: Introduction of Fixed Disk Drives

IBM 3350

IBM introduced the first hard disk drive with non-removable disks, which were sealed inside the drive, like they are in the present drives, so this is the moment where the hard disk drives started to look like the modern disk drives.

This disk drive had the capacity to hold 317.5MB of data on each storage drive, offering a total of 635MB for storing data in the whole unit, and the data transfer rate was further increased to about 1.17MB/s.

The IBM 3350 had a price tag of about $62,500 back then, thus we can now see the trend we follow today, i.e., better performance and storage yet reduction in price.

1979 – IBM 62PC “Piccolo”: The World’s first 8-inch HDD

IBM 62PC "Piccolo"

What a change in size now! From “pizza ovens” and “small trunks” to “small box” like structures. As time passed, more and more people were owning a computer and thus there was a need to make the size of hard disk drives small so as to enable people to carry data from one location to another or in other words increase portability.

The Piccolo paved the way for the creation of the small sized hard disk drives which we use today, as you can see this hard disk drive was only 8-inch long, and was a revolutionary product back then. Due to its small size, this disk drive had the capacity to hold only about 64.5MB of data in it.

So, this was the moment when those large boxes got converted into small devices, very similar to what we see and use today.

1980 – IBM 3380: The World’s first gigabyte HDD

IBM 3380

A few more years down the line, and hard disk drives were getting smaller and smaller but only a change in physical size wasn’t going to satisfy the needs of the people. Developments in computer software demanded a greater capacity to hold data within the hard disk drives.

Finally in the year 1980, IBM made another innovation, the world’s first gigabyte hard disk drive. It looked more like an engine, but back then it was the most powerful hard disk drive on the planet. This drive had the capacity to store about 2.52GB of data and offered data transfer speed of about 3MB/s.

This drive was about the size of an average refrigerator and was priced at about $81,000 back then. Here we see an increase in the price as compared to the previous version, but looking at the high leap in the storage capacity, the price was just fine.

1980 – Seagate ST-506: The World’s first 5.25-inch HDD

Seagate ST-506

In the same year i.e., 1980, after the invention of the world’s first gigabyte hard disk drive by IBM, Seagate introduced the world’s first 5.25-inch hard disk drive, which was yet another step in reducing the size of disk drives and another awesome innovation. This little item could store about 5MB of data and had a price tag of $1500 at that time.

Though the capacity was very low, due to compact size of it, it was a great choice for carrying documents and other files which don’t consume much space and needed to be carried from place to place.

1983 – Rodime RO-352: The World’s first 3.5-inch HDD

Rodime RO-352

Another year and another invention, and this time it’s from a new company named Rodime, who gave the world its first 3.5-inch hard disk drive, which had the capacity to hold 11MB of data in that little box. Too bad that this little drive was only capable of holding a few photos or a single song of 320KBps bitrate.

We use 3.5-inch HDD in our computers still today, and though this was a primitive version of 3.5-inch disks and offered a low data transfer rate of about 600KB/s, this was the start of a whole new revolution.

1988 – PrairieTek 220: The World’s first 2.5-inch HDD

PrairieTek 220

Companies around the world were in competition to reduce the physical size of hard disk drives, while at the same time increase the capacity to hold data.

PrairieTek introduced the world’s first 2.5-inch hard disk drive, which had the capacity to squeeze about 21.3MB of data in it, though not a very large capacity, still better than the Seagate ST-506(5MB) and Rodime RO-352(11MB).

As now we can see that the size is really getting smaller and smaller, from large wardrobes to small devices, and surprisingly it has about double the capacity as that of the 3.5-inch HDD introduced by Rodime, though being an inch smaller.

1991 – Integral Peripherals Mustang 1820: The World’s first 1.8-inch HDD

Integral Peripherals Mustang 1820

A few more years later, things are really getting tiny, and here we have another example of goodness packed into a small size. This little hard disk drive had the capacity to store about 21.4MB of data, in spite of being this tiny.

Today a standard phone’s memory card which is way smaller than this, holds gigabytes of data, but back then this was no less than a miracle.

1997 – IBM Deskstar 16GP

IBM Deskstar 16GP

The need to store more data onto hard disks was increasing at a faster rate than the companies’ abilities to create hard disks to meet it. But this was not going to stop IT giants like IBM from creating wonders.

IBM broke all records with its monster hard disk. The Deskstar 16GP was a leap forward among the other 3.5-inch hard disk drives, with a capacity to store about 16.8GB of data but with a very high price tag of about $420,000 back at that time.

2000 – Trek ThumbDrive: The World’s first USB Flash Drive

Trek Thumbdrive

After years of development it suddenly seemed that magnetic disks weren’t the only medium of storage available to people.

In the year 2000, a new storage device based on a technology called “Flash Storage”, which is a fast storage technology, came into existence with a decrease in size again. Trek was the first company to release a commercial USB Flash Storage drive, called Trek ThumbDrive.

This little drive had the capacity to hold about 8MB of data, about 4 times that of a floppy disk, and was priced at about $28. This was the start of the range of flash storage devices that we use today, and at a price that everyone could afford.

2003 – Toshiba 2GB USB Flash Drive

Toshiba 2GB USB Flash Drive

USB Flash Drives were gaining capacity, and in the year 2003, USB drives had the capacity to store about 2GB of data packed into a small area. In 1980, the IBM 3380 which was about the size of a car engine had the capacity to hold about 2.5GB of data, and in the year 2003 a tiny flash drive ha nearly the same capacity. That’s like a whole lot of songs or an HD movie (compressed) right in your pocket, ready to be carried anywhere.

2006 – Sandisk 2GB microSD Card

Sandisk 2GB microSD Card

USB Flash Drives weren’t small enough, so in the year 2006, Sandisk released a new product called the “microSD” card, having the capacity to store about 2GB of data, and was given a nifty price tag of $99 back then.

It’s amazing that while the size of storage drives has finally shrunk from “large trunks” to barely the size of a coin, the data storage capacity has increased to a large value. In the year 1956 we could barely fit 3.75MB of data onto a hard disk drive that was of the size of a regular wardrobe, and now after 50 years of evolution about 2GB of data can be stored onto this tiny little drive.

2007 – Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000: The World’s first 1TB HDD

Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000

Hard disk manufacturers weren’t sitting idle, and to prove it, Hitachi released the world’s first 1 terabyte (1024GB) hard disk drive, which was a milestone in the hard disk evolution history. This amazing drive had a data transfer rate of about 300MB/s and was priced at $399 at that time.

Having one of these meant having a ton of movies, music, files, games and all, and forgetting about the need to delete any files. I really have a hard time filling my 1TB HDD up, currently I have only filled half of it with a bunch of movies, 4K resolution videos, music, etc.

2013 – What We have now

Seagate 4TB Internal Hard Drive

Over the years, technology has evolved and our lifestyle has changed, so has our everlasting hunger for more and more data storage capacity.

After all these years of evolution we now have some extremely high capacity and powerful storage devices which are shaping the world of computers and meeting our current needs for data storage.

First is, the Seagate 4TB hard disk drive, a sleek HDD offering enormous storage space (4TB), and high data transfer rate of nearly 1GB/s, but with a comparatively low price tag of $190.

Kingston 1TB USB Flash Drive

Second is the world’s first 1TB USB flash drive introduced by Kingston. This is surely one powerful little device with a data transfer rate of about 240MB/s, but has the price tag of a cheap car. Current reports have unveiled that this little drive will cost about $3,400.

Lexar microSDXC Card

Third is the Lexar microSDXC memory card, which offers a storage capacity of about 256GB, data transfer at 90MB/s and has a price tag of $999.99.

Other Storage Solutions

Besides these there are other storage devices which have evolved in a similar way. I would like to mention two such technologies here:

Cloud Storage

This is another great leap in the storage technology. To give a brief introduction, all data is stored in a storage called “The Cloud” which can be accessed from any device and from anywhere using the internet.

Cloud Storage

This has made data much more portable, as now we don’t need to carry hard disks or any storage device with us. We can access our data anywhere and anytime from any device we want using Cloud Storage technology.

Currently Cloud Storage is available from a number of providers such as Dropbox, Box and Google Drive‎.

Apple AirPort Time Capsule

Apple AirPort Time Capsule

Another storage device worth mentioning is the Apple AirPort Time Capsule. The Time Capsule is a wireless storage device from Apple Inc. This storage device has the capacity to store up to 3TB of data and operates using Wi-Fi to connect with an iMac or an Apple device.

Currently a 3TB version of this storage device is available at $399. It can easily be connected to an Apple device, for superfast data transfer and automatic backups.

Final Thoughts

After 57 years of continuous development we see that once large wardrobe sized hard disk drives contained a few megabytes of data, and now a chip, hardly the size of a coin holds a quarter of a terrabyte of data. Also with the invention of Cloud Storage and Wireless storage technology, data storage and transfer has become painless.

Technology has taken huge leaps and we, the end users are enjoying the fruits of these advancements, and I hope that we will continue to see such amazing products like these in the future. What do you think?