December 27, 2005

COOL AND CHEAP: I remember being impressed with a — hellishly expensive — 10MB HardCard, back in about 1984. Now I just “installed” one of these 60 GB shirt-pocket hard drives, powered by USB, and cheap enough that it was pretty much an impulse buy; I wanted something easily portable to back up laptops. (It really is as small as it looks in the photos, too — only a little bigger than a deck of cards or a pack of cigarettes.) I use the quotation marks around “installed” because all I had to do was plug it into the USB port and it was ready.

Six thousand times the storage, at (if I recall correctly) about one-third or one-fourth the price, in a much more convenient package. If only everything got better as fast as computers and electronics do.

UPDATE: Reader Kevin Murphy emails: “Moore’s Law states that performance/price doubles every 1.5 years. Given 21 years, that would be a factor of 2^^14 or 16,384. Which is pretty close to 6000 times performance at 1/3rd the price. Pretty good long-term validation of Moore’s Law if you ask me.”

Meanwhile, Jim Skrydlak emails:

Your post today about your new shirt-pocket disk drive and the steadily declining cost of technology was right on (as usualy for your posts). I thought that it might interest you to know that, in the mid-1970s, disk drives came two to a box. The box was approximately the size of a washing machine. Eight boxes were, in turn, attached to a controller, which attached the whole string to a channel (I’m talking IBM 360/370 here). An individual drive (Model 3330-1) held 100 MB (200 MB for a box). The cost, including a pro-rata share of a controller, wa in excess of $1 per MB. We used to refer to the disk storage for a computer room as the “disk farm”, and a farm would, in fact, cover an acre or more.

None of that is even to mention the electric power consumption both to run the disk drives and to dissipate the heat nor the frequency with which there would be a problem with a drive, a controller or a (removable) disk pack, which was a stack of ten (I think) platters, each 13″ (I think) in diameter.

That’s before my time, though my computer-science Explorer post in high school used a Univac 494 (already obsolete then) that employed drum storage, which I think was even more primitive. It was big, loud, and impressive, though, something that few computers really are now. My washing machine, however, probably has more computing power.

Meanwhile, Jeff MacMichael reflects on how he used to carry his PC, uphill, to school in five-foot-deep snow. Me too. And not just on the way to school — it was uphill both ways!

Finally, reader Michael Yancey emails:

Oh, man, that brings back memories.

I sold a motorcycle to get money to buy a 20meg Hardcard. I remember its logo and graphics being a minty green. I remember I got $400 for the bike and the drive was every bit of that plus maybe $25. But, boy, that was speed, in those days.

Yeah, I had a Kaypro 4 — a CP/M machine with not one, but two floppies – which were both double-sided and double-density. I couldn’t afford a hardcard, though I think you could get them for Kaypros. One of my friends had one on (I believe) a Northstar machine, then favored by programmer-types for some reason.

And, actually, the Kaypro, primitive as it was, was a very satisfactory machine to write on.