Smaller but wiser,
the hard disk drive hits 50

The way we were: The world's first hard disk drive- unveiled by IBM in 1956 - was not exactly portable



  • Hard disks hold all the electronic information on our computers so that when we switch off, nothing is erased
  • Saving information on to a hard disk is done magnetically. Magnetic recording has the advantage of being able to store, erase and re-record in the same space many times
  • On a hard disk, the magnetic recording surface is layered on to a very thin aluminium or glass disk and is polished to mirror-type smoothness
  • Data is stored on the hard disk in sectors or tracks
  • When you access a file or save something the recording and reading device does not actually touch the disk, it flies over it

IT WAS the size of two refrigerators and could store only a tiny fraction of the data that today's camera flash cards can - but 50 years ago it was a revolutionary concept. And, as the hard disk drive celebrates its half-century milestone this week, who can imagine life without it?
The drives are the storage bins of our computers - where we keep our photos, files and everything else we save. Even when we are out of the office, they are inescapable - popping up in MP3 players, cameras and mobile phones.
But when IBM unveiled the world's first hard disk in 1956, portability was not a priority. The box, with sides measuring l.5m, weighed almost a tonne and could store 5Mb of information. That amount of data is equivalent to five digital photographs or one small film clip.
It stored the data on 50 24-inch spinning disks coated with iron oxide paint mounted on a rotating spindle. But, despite the drives being so big and power-hungry, they soon became the must-have item for all computer systems, though now they are being challenged by flash card storage.
They have steadily shrunk in size to the point where a drive capable of storing 100 times as much as the original IBM disk can fit into a mobile phone. The world's smallest drive is just 2.15cm long, weighs l0g and can store 100 times more data than its 1956 predecessor, said Martin Larsson. of electronics firm Toshiba.
He added: 'Without hard disk drives, the space required to store the data for a company of 25 people would be a five-storey car park.'
[The Metro 14/9/06]

Floppy finally flops


AFTER 36 years and billions of sales, the floppy disk is to join the video player, cassette deck and film camera on technology's scrapheap. The 9cm piece of plastic will no longer be available from Britain's biggest computer retailer. PC World announced last night it would stop selling the disks when stocks ran out.

Floppies were once considered among the most vital accessories to computer users and offices worldwide for holding data in an easy-to-store format, which could easily be transferred between PCs. In 1998, 2billion were sold around the world and every computer would have an 'A-drive' to handle them. They would be the all-important back- up in case computers crashed.

But floppies hold only 1.44mb of data now little more than a single song, one high resolution picture or a few dozen word-only documents. Instead, memory cards, CD/DVDs and memory sticks can hold up to 1,000 times as much data. Only 700million floppies were sold globally last year- down from 2billon in 1998 - and 98 percent of PCs no longer have an A-drive.

PC World's Bryan Magrath said: 'The floppy looks increasingly quaint and simply can't compete.' The first floppy, introduced by IBM in 1971, was a 20cm disk holding just l00kb of data. Ten years later, Sony introduced the standard 9cm floppy. In South Africa, the disks are known as 'stiffies' and in Finland as 'korppus', meaning biscuits.

Video players were consigned to history in 2004, when retailer Dixons stop selling them. At least they out-lasted the Betamax format tapes which all but disappeared in 1985 after a two- year battle for supremacy with VHS.
[The Metro Jan30,2007]

Hard drive: Two terabytes or more The first one unveiled in 1956 could store just 4.4Mb of data and was hired out to companies at £1,600 per month Floppy disc: Up to 200Mb First introduced in 1969.Most PCs no longer have a slot for them  Cassette: 680Kb per side They were used in computers in the early 1970s to store data and play games but were phased out in the l98Os  Zip Drive: 100-750Mb Created by Iomega in 1994. Popularity faded owing to technical problems and the introduction of USB flash drives USB flash drive: Up to 64Gb Launched in the late 1990s and still very popular DVD: 8.5Gb Developed in mid-1990s. By 2003 it had I outstripped VHS in the US, Europe and Australia HD DVD: 30Gb Developed by Toshiba. The first HD DVD player launched last year Blu-ray Disc: 50Gb The first Blu-ray Disc recorder was unveiled by Sony on March 3,2003, and was introduced to the Japanese market in April that year CD-ROM: 700Mb First used for music in 1982 after being created by Sony and Philips. CD-ROM for computers launched in 1985

First, it was the paperless office. Now Bill Gates has a new, paper


Sheet idea: the Text2 Paper machine and, inset, the Text-It-Notes -device

THE company that brought the world the paperless office has launched a brand new invention - paper. Microsoft is renowned for encouraging employees to ditch paper files and folders. Now it has unveiled a device that turns text messages into stickers. The IT giant says Text2Paper will provide a futuristic way to make labels for old-fashioned paper calendars. The US software giant has also created a gadget that can do exactly the opposite, turn writing into text messages. People (presumably technophobes) scribble a message on the Text-It-Notes machine. It then reads the writing and converts it into a text message. Microsoft claims the inventions 'bridge both the digital and paper divide, and also the generational divide between those who are comfortable with paper, typically the parents, and those comfortable with the mobile phone, the teens.' It is a far cry from Microsoft boss Bill Gates' vision of the 'paperless office', which he has been touting for more than a decade. In his book, Business @ The Speed Of Thought, he devotes a chapter to the subject. The Microsoft website even has an entire section telling us a how to reduce desktop junk. The devices were unveiled at Microsoft Techfest, in Richmond, Washington. Techfest brings together Microsoft researchers from all over the world to show off and swap ideas about technology that is not yet available to the public.
[Metro March 8, 2007]