The History of Hard Disk Drives


Hard disk drives (HDDs) have come a long way since their invention over 60 years ago. This blog post will explore some of the key milestones in the evolution of HDD technology.

The First Hard Drives (1956-1970s)

IBM invented the first hard drive in 1956. It was called the IBM 350 and was part of the IBM 305 RAMAC (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control) system. The 350 disk drive contained 50 platters that were 24 inches in diameter and weighed over a ton! Despite its large size, it only stored 5 MB of data.

In the 1960s and 70s, HDD capacities and performance improved steadily but slowly. Drives typically stored anywhere from 5-100MB, with access times measured in tens of milliseconds. Major players in the early HDD market included IBM, Control Data Corporation, Memorex, and Storage Technology Corporation (StorageTek).

Winchester Drives (1973)

A major leap came in 1973 when IBM introduced the Winchester drive, named after the Winchester 30-30 rifle. Winchester drives enclosed the recording head and disk stack in a sealed module, drastically reducing contamination related failures. This innovation led to significant improvements in capacity and performance. By the late 70s, drives commonly held 10-100MB and average seek times dropped below 100 milliseconds.

The PC Revolution (1980s)

The introduction of the IBM PC in 1981 brought enormous demand for HDDs. Important companies serving the burgeoning PC market included Seagate, Western Digital, Toshiba, and Quantum. In 1983, Rodime released the first 3.5-inch HDD for use in laptops. Capacities in the 80s rose from 10MB on the low end to over 1GB on the very high end. The 1986 release of SCSI (small computer system interface) pushed maximum transfer speeds into the megabytes/second range.

Into the 1990s and Beyond

The 1990s saw steady improvement in HDD capacity and performance. In 1991, Integral introduced the first 2.5-inch HDD, designed for notebook computers. In the late 90s, some drives started incorporating magnetoresistive heads and PRML (partial-response maximum-likelihood) technology to boost capacity. In 1999, Seagate’s Barracuda ATA drive broke the 10GB capacity barrier.

Since the turn of the century, we’ve seen exponential growth in HDD capacity and performance. Today, consumer drives provide terabytes of storage, while high performance enterprise drives push capacities past 10TB. Solid state drives are giving traditional HDDs serious competition, but HDD innovation continues at a rapid pace. We are undoubtedly in a golden age of computer data storage!

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