The hard drive is an important part of modern day computing, because it allows for information to be stored and then accessed at a later point. However, the modern day drive has its roots in technology that was developed over 50 years ago. The first drive was developed in 1956 and resembled what would look like a modern day air conditioning unit. The units of yesterday had extremely small storage capacities yet took up 100 times as much room. As technology evolved, the capacities of hard drives increased while they took up less and less space.
The Early Days
The first idea of a unit to store and receive data was imagined in 1953 by engineers at IBM. They recognized the need of a piece of hardware that could have high capacity, rapid access to the data, and be cheap to construct. The first technologies considered were wire matrices, rod arrays and even drum arrays. However, the disk drive was finally settled on as the unit of choice because of its ease of construction and easy mechanics. The first drive was the IBM 305 RAMAC system which could store 4.4 megabytes at a cost of $ 160,000 in today's money.
The IBM 350 disk file turned out to be a very big success for IBM and the age of the hard drive was officially born. However, the performance of this first device was laughable in comparison to what the cheapest units can achieve today. The IBM 350 disk file was capable of accessing the information in less than 1 second – in comparison almost all hard drives in existence today can access information in just a few milliseconds. However, access time soon decreased substantively and by 1961 the 4000 series disk drives were capable of an access time of just 50 ms. In 1973, IBM introduced the IBM 3340 disk drive. This was the first hard drive that made use of lubricated and low mass media to ensure smooth operation and less maintenance.
The Personal Computer Era
When the personal computer revolution began in the 1980s, the primary means of storing and retrieving data on a computer was via floppy disks. Thus, most personal computers lacked a hard drive because they were still too expensive to manufacture and they could not compete with floppy disks in terms of pure storage capacity. However, by the late 1980s they were starting to replace floppy disks as the primary method of storage on personal computers. By the mid-1990s virtually all personal computers shipped with some type of internal drive because they were now much cheaper than floppy disks in terms of the amount of storage available.
After the hard drive became a staple in the personal computer industry in the early 1990s, they have continued to become faster, smaller, and with higher capacities. Hard drives are currently extremely cheap and can store large amounts of information, some on the order of up to 5 terabytes of data. The future of the devices is not clear, but most experts agree that they will be phased out and replaced with the much more technologically advanced solid state drive. A solid state drive does not have moving parts and therefore has a longer lifespan and is easier to maintain versus a normal hard drive.