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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.
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
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