History of storage: Cuneiform tablets to flash

History of storage: Cuneiform tablets to flash

Summary: Come with ZDNet UK on a brisk stroll through the history of storage: our culture's push to give our discoveries, memories and knowledge lives and power of their own

TOPICS: Storage

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  • Magnetic drum

    Magnetic drum
    A breakthrough storage invention was the magnetic drum, forerunner of the disk. This example from the mid-'50s IBM 650 had 10,000 characters of storage and acted as the main memory of the computer. The drum was 16 inches long, had 40 tracks and span at 12,500 revolutions per minute.

    To ensure uniform, vibration-free rotation, the drums tended to be massive and were driven by powerful motors. An entire tradition of legend and myth has grown up around them, mostly centring on bearing seizures and other catastrophic breakdowns that led to the drums smashing through walls or the complete units walking out of the machine room in clouds of smoke and sparks.

    Credit: IBM

  • Hard disk

    Hard disk
    The mainstay of modern computing, the hard disk was invented in 1956 by IBM and hasn't stopped spinning since.

    The picture shows six form factors of hard disk, from 8-inch down to 1-inch, and represents the history of the device from the late 1970s through to today. The 8-inch drives had capacities between 5MB and 30MB; the most capacious single 3.5-inch unit today has 3TB.

    Although most people know of Moore's Law — the number of devices in an area of silicon will double every two years — the capacity of hard disks has been outpacing that rate of improvement. One of the biggest advances was the discovery of the giant magnetoresistive effect, a piece of quantum physics that went from discovery in 1988 to market in 1998 — and earned its discoverers the Nobel Prize in 2007.

    Credit: Paul R Potts/Wiki Commons

  • Flash memory

    Flash memory
    It is the biggest real threat to hard disks — and the fundamental technology that's turned our pockets and handbags into portable datacentres. Flash memory was invented by Toshiba in 1980, and because it is purely semiconductor-based, it has benefited from Moore's Law ever since.

    With no moving parts and low power requirements, it has been locked in battle with hard disks for dominance in PCs and larger installations: however, as hard disks' cost and performance continues to improve faster than that of flash, the battle's going to be a long one.

    This particular unit, rescued from the ZDNet UK editor's mobile phone, costs around £17 and stores around 16 billion times as much data as the same area of cuneiform.

    It is, however, unlikely to survive for more than 5,000 years.

    How old is your storage? Let us know in the comments.

    Photo credit: Rupert Goodwins

Topic: Storage

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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  • Don't forget Magnetic Bubble memory invented by Bell Labs in the late sixties. It was a form of non-volatile memory. At one time, it was going to become the storage unit in every computer but falling hard drive prices destroyed its commercial potential.
  • Also the chinese and anyone with non Latin /greek characters could not adopt the press, i.e. chinese, arabic, japanese, in fact only the europeans and russians were the major civilisations to use printed books until the 19th century, prior to which the renaissance happened and enlightenment.
  • This is quite wrong in all respects.

    The history of printing is complex and China and other parts of Asia were the first to print on paper and even developed movable type.

    See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Printing

    Also the Russians are actually Europeans... Since Europe is defined as that part of Eurasia to the West of the Ural mountains. That area (West of the Ural Mountains) in the far east of Europe is where ethnic Russians first emerged and where most of them still live to this day, it is called Russia. If you talk about the modern Russian federation or the old Russian Empire or Soviet Russia then you have to include Siberia and parts of Central Asia