How Fast Things Happen So Fast
To get a perspective on digital storage let’s go back to the mid 50’s. It was in 1956 that IBM developed something called the IBM 350. The IBM 350 has the distinction of being the first modern hard drive. It contained fifty 24-inch disks that spun at 1200 RPM and could claim 4.4MB of storage. Repeat: 4.4 megabytes.
Don’t laugh. There were a lot of very serious engineers and Mad Men in button-down shirts standing around shaking their heads, totally overwhelmed, pondering this technical breakthrough. And there was a lot to ponder in sheer bulk alone. I mean the 350 wasn’t a laptop or even a desktop. In fact, it occupied the space of two refrigerators and weighed over a ton.
The 350 was actually a key part of the IBM 305 RAMAC system, which was—according to IBM—“a flexible, electronic, general purpose data processing machine that enabled businesses to record transactions as they occurred.” That’s right — as in real-time.
The 305 system consisted of the following: the IBM 305 Processing Unit, the IBM 370 Printer (an 80-position serial-output printer), the IBM 323 Card Punch (providing for 80 columns of output punching), the IBM 380 Console (containing card feed, typewriter, keyboard and indicator lights and control keys), the IBM 340 Power Supply (supplying power for all components except the motors in the 350 disk storage unit), a utility table adjacent to the console, and, of course, the IBM 350 with 4.4 megabytes of storage. Oh, and one more detail: the rental charge for the 305 RAMAC was a hefty $3,200 a month.
Now, let’s fast forward and take a quick look at one of the new solid state hard drives. For example, take the new Plextor M3 Series Solid State Drive which is very fast and very reliable. The Plextor M3 starts at $199.99 (no rental available).
The smallest capacity M3 offers 128 gigabytes of storage—that’s the equivalent of 131,072 megabytes, or nearly 30,000 IBM 350s. In physical size, there’s not a lot to ponder. In fact, it measures 2.75” x .3” x 4” and weighs in at 8 ounces, which is about the size of the average smart phone.
Now 4.4MB was a long time ago—or 131,000-plus megabytes happened awfully fast. Either way, the lesson here is simple: respect. The IBM 350’s status as the jaw-dropping progenitor of today’s hard drive is undisputed. If it wasn’t for Big Blue’s behemoth of the Fifties, you wouldn’t be reading this blog on a nifty little computer that you’ll use today to help consume a couple dozen gigabytes of information.
Computer scientist Christopher Evans summed it up nicely years ago when he said:
“Had the automobile developed at a pace equal to that of the computer during the past twenty years, a Rolls Royce would now cost less than $3.00, get 3 million miles per gallon, deliver enough power to drive the Queen Elizabeth 2, and six of them would fit on the head of a pin.”