The Hard Disk That Changed the World: 50th anniversary





IBM delivered the first disk drive 50 years ago. It was about the size of two refrigerators and weighed a ton.

If there's a bottle of vintage champagne you've been saving, next month is the time to pop it open: it's the 50th anniversary of hard-disk storage. Don't laugh. On Sept. 13, 1956, IBM shipped the first unit of the RAMAC (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control) and set in motion a process that would change the way we live.

The RAMAC, designed in Big Blue's San Jose, Calif., research center, is the ultimate ancestor of that 1.8-inch drive that holds 7,500 songs inside your pocket-size $299 iPod. Of course, the RAMAC would have made a lousy music player. The drive weighed a full ton, and to lease it you'd pay about $250,000 a year in today's dollars. Since it required a separate air compressor to protect the two moving "heads" that read and wrote information, it was noisy. The total amount of information stored on its 50 spinning iron-oxide-coated disks—each of them a pizza-size 24 inches—was 5 megabytes. That's not quite enough to hold two MP3 copies of Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog."



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