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Sunday, May 5, 2013

The history of computer data storage, in pictures


The Selectron tube

The Selectron tube had a capacity of 256 to 4096 bits (32 to 512 bytes). The 4096-bit Selectron was 10 inches long and 3 inches wide. Originally developed in 1946, the memory storage device proved expensive and suffered from production problems, so it never became a success.


Punch cards

Early computers often used punch cards for input both of programs and data. Punch cards were in common use until the mid-1970s. It should be noted that the use of punch cards predates computers. They were used as early as 1725 in the textile industry (for controlling mechanized textile looms).



Punched tape

Same as with punch cards, punched tape was originally pioneered by the textile industry for use with mechanized looms. For computers, punch tape could be used for data input but also as a medium to output data. Each row on the tape represented one character.


Magnetic drum memory

Invented all the way back in 1932 (in Austria), it was widely used in the 1950s and 60s as the main working memory of computers. In the mid-1950s, magnetic drum memory had a capacity of around 10 kB.


The hard disk drive

The first hard disk drive was the IBM Model 350 Disk File that came with the IBM 305 RAMAC computer in 1956. It had 50 24-inch discs with a total storage capacity of 5 million characters (just under 5 MB).

The first hard drive to have more than 1 GB in capacity was the IBM 3380 in 1980 (it could store 2.52 GB). It was the size of a refrigerator, weighed 550 pounds (250 kg), and the price when it was introduced ranged from $81,000 to $142,400.

The Laserdisc

We mention it here mainly because it was the precursor to the CD-ROM and other optical storage solutions. It was mainly used for movies. The first commercially available laserdisc system was available on the market late in 1978 (then called Laser Videodisc and the more funkily branded DiscoVision) and were 11.81 inches (30 cm) in diameter. The discs could have up to 60 minutes of audio/video on each side. The first laserdiscs had entirely analog content. The basic technology behind laserdiscs was invented all the way back in 1958.


The floppy disc

The diskette, or floppy disk (named so because they were flexible), was invented by IBM and in common use from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s. The first floppy disks were 8 inches, and later in came 5.25 and 3.5-inch formats. The first floppy disk, introduced in 1971, had a capacity of 79.7 kB, and was read-only. A read-write version came a year later.


Magnetic tape

Magnetic tape was first used for data storage in 1951. The tape device was called UNISERVO and was the main I/O device on the UNIVAC I computer. The effective transfer rate for the UNISERVO was about 7,200 characters per second. The tapes were metal and 1200 feet long (365 meters) and therefore very heavy.

And of course, we can’t mention magnetic tape without also mentioning the standard compact cassette, which was a popular way of data storage for personal computers in the late 70s and 80s. Typical data rates for compact cassettes were 2,000 bit/s. You could store about 660 kB per side on a 90-minute tape.

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