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Data Storage Hardware

The 305 RAMAC — First Commercial Hard Drive 244

Captain DaFt writes " has an article that gives an interesting look back at the first commercial hard drive, the IBM 350. Twice as big as a refrigerator and weighing in at a ton, it packed a whopping 4.4MB! Compare that to the 1-4GB sticks that most of us have on our keychains today."
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The 305 RAMAC — First Commercial Hard Drive

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  • Storage costs... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BWJones ( 18351 ) * on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:16PM (#21646651) Homepage Journal
    Wow, I remember my first hard drive for the TRS-80 Model II that I had. It was a 5MB primary hard disk system that required you to turn a key to power it on, then wait while it ran up sounding like a jet engine before you pressed the "active" button to enable reading and writing. The cool thing about it was that you could actually hack it and get it to work on my later Apple ][+ that I used throughout junior high, high school and half of college before replacing it with a Mac IIci. Oh yeah, it weighed about 20 lbs and was in a case bigger than the Apple ][+ case alone. Finally, the interesting thing is that Kryder's law has been maintained over time like Moore's law and it is stunning how much storage space money buys these days. I seem to recall that original 5MB Tandy hard drive costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $4000, and for that money I can now buy ~16TB of storage like this setup [] in my office.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Working on retinal reconstruction, eh? It looks like that first pic is of the device that's used to burn your retinas out...
    • Re:Storage costs... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by sm62704 ( 957197 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:51PM (#21647223) Journal
      While we're reminiscing about the good old days of refrigerator sized hard drives that would only hold a single three minute MP3 and pocket calculators that needed a whole building to house and took an army of engineers to run, you kids might want to know what it's like to grow up with computers (written 2005) []; or rather, have computers grow up with you.

      Now be nice and don't make any "soviet Russia" jokes about this comment, ok?

      -mcgrew []

    • Remember the Xetec Lt. Kernal? It was a similar hdd designed for the C64/C128 and about as expensive. If you search the net you can easily find pictures of it.

      It too was rather loud and only had 5-10 megs of storage, but that was like 200 floppies.
    • Wow 4000 bucks for a junior high kid! Money to burn! And there I was (roughly the same time frame) using a hole punch to turn single sided disks into double sided disks.
      • by BWJones ( 18351 ) *
        Yeah, I was punching holes in floppy disks myself for personal use. But was also doing some database stuff (Visicalc) for some of the faculty members at the local medical school and they paid for the hard drive. I just specced it which was pretty cool for a then 12 year old.

    • I can now buy ~16TB of storage like this setup in my office.

      Most of the time, I like you. Today, right now, I hate you.

      *looks at his CRT eMac and sighs*

  • by Bruiser80 ( 1179083 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:18PM (#21646679)
    Who's ever going to need all that space? :-)
  • Insightful! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:19PM (#21646699)
    Compare that to the 1-4GB sticks that most of us have on our keychains today.

    Wow, yes. Storage density has increased over time. Amazing. I never noticed that before.
    • by suso ( 153703 ) *
      Actually, probably for the size of that thing, you could fit 1000 TB drives in the same volume, so you could fit a petabyte (and soon 5PB) in the same amount of space. So storage space per cubic whatever has increased by a billion times in 50 years.
    • by j00r0m4nc3r ( 959816 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:24PM (#21646789)
      I don't think he was commenting on the storage density, just the fact that it was a lot harder to lug around a 350 on your keychain.
    • Re:Insightful! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by xtracto ( 837672 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:25PM (#21646805) Journal
      Yeah... at least they should have pointed to the Wikipedia page [] which gives plenty of more insight than an urban legends debunking web page. It is not news, but if they want to add this sort of trivia well, better do it the right way.

    • I used Microsoft's first C compiler ( a rebranded Lattice). It came on 2 single-sided single density floppies. Add Wordstar or similar and you could actually do edit/compile/link etc on a single floppy machine (though two floppies were infinitely better because you would not have to pause to load the linker disk). With that toolset you could do all the software development you'd ever need to do on that machine.

      Sure, we might now have hundreds of GB hard disks, but the size of everything has blown out too.


    • Compare that to the 1-4GB sticks that most of us have on our keychains today.
      Who needs USB sticks these days? For me, its much more convenient to scp files around as I need them.
  • Comparison (Score:5, Funny)

    by explosivejared ( 1186049 ) <hagan,jared&gmail,com> on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:20PM (#21646717)
    pen drive: will fit in my pocket
    RAMAC: will maybe fit in my kitchen

    pen drive: holds quite a bit of data
    RAMAC: can't hold that much data

    pen drive: cannot be used as cover in a gun fight
    RAMAC: essentially is a battlement worthy of any castle

    AND THE WINNER IS....... RAMAC! I know I want a storage device that protect me from sundry projectiles.
    • by Fx.Dr ( 915071 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @05:01PM (#21647369)
      I'll be right there, ready to prove wrong the fool who believes the pen drive is mightier than the sword.
    • by arivanov ( 12034 )
      It is quite obvious that you have not seen what happens when you lift the lid on a drive from those days after some sorry bastard has disabled the safety that disallows you to do that while the disk is still spinning. The effect is roughly the same as from a hand grenade. A portion of the outer casing looks like it was shot from the inside and chunks of the original drive plates are sticking from the wall or from the sorry bastard who happened to be on that side of the case. I have seen that happen on a cou
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Reminds me of the days I used to collect VAXen... and would respond to the nay-sayers by saying "It doesn't matter how fast your shiny new laptop is, because my VAX could squash your laptop flat if it fell over on it."

      Rock, Paper, Scissors - all fall before the power of my mighty 100-pound "micro" VAX

  • Will they ever cover the rumor of conscious editors at /.?

    Is it the model IBM 350 is the harddrive and the 305 RAMAC is the computer.
  • Portable (Score:5, Funny)

    by SnarfQuest ( 469614 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:21PM (#21646733)
    According to the photo in the article, it was also a portable drive.
    • Well of course it was portable. They were transporting it from the cargo hold of a plane with a forklift, weren't they? Just because you need a jet doesn't mean it's not portable!
  • And? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Selfbain ( 624722 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:21PM (#21646739)
    Those 1-4GB usb drives will be a joke in the not too distant future too.
    • by symes ( 835608 )
      I don't think the jokes will stop at memory... I can almost hear my children stumbling upon my old tablet (HP4400) in ten years time and wetting themselves laughing at that monstrous "just so unportable, dude" paving slab of a machine.
    • Very true look at what a joke Zip disks [] are. When I was a freshman CE major it was required for us to have a Zip Drive and a Zip Disk. A year later they were totally worthless, $150 down the drain!! Everyone was moving to CDW/CDRW.
    • Yeah, especially when the feds [] take it away from you...
  • Too Bad (Score:3, Funny)

    by Azarael ( 896715 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:21PM (#21646743) Homepage
    It's too bad that you can't fit the equivalent ratio of *beer* on your keychain..
  • Finally, (Score:5, Funny)

    by Megaweapon ( 25185 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:22PM (#21646759) Homepage
    I'm sick of storing all my porn on punchcards.
  • The rule is really very simple: standard hard drives (i.e. excluding things like micro-drives) really have a nearly constant price of roughly $250/pound. Most of what's changed over time has been the amount of data you can store per pound.
    • Every hard drive I have weighs at least 1 pound. None of them cost over $150. I think your numbers are a little bit off. Also, you generally don't pay for storage by weight. You can buy an 80 GB drive and a 500 GB drive that weigh pretty much the same right now.
  • Funny story ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:31PM (#21646923) Homepage
    My brother, who is largely computer illiterate but finally got a machine the other year has had his hard drive die.

    So, he was telling me that he figured he could get 2 GB of RAM and 500GB HD for $150. At first, I didn't believe him; then I checked prices, then I almost fell over.

    Having personally paid $600+ for 16MB of RAM (and thinking it was a good deal) the fact that for less than $200 you can buy that much stuff shocks me.

    Having had computers whose memory was measured in K, that didn't have hard drives, and whose CPU speeds were measured in single-digit Hz ... sometimes it just boggles my mind what people can buy now. Hell, your average pharmacist will have GB+ memory cards for digital cameras for about $25 nowadays.

    Every now and then when I stop to realize how far we've come it just bakes my noodle! =)

    • The slowest computer I remember having was a 386 running at 20 MHz. I seriously doubt you ever had a computer that ran in single digit Hz. Possibly single digit MHz, but surely not single digit Hz.
      • The slowest computer I remember having was a 386 running at 20 MHz. I seriously doubt you ever had a computer that ran in single digit Hz. Possibly single digit MHz, but surely not single digit Hz.

        Yup, the clock speed of the original IBM PC was 4.77 MHz. I was referring to a Tandy Color Computer, which I had assumed was in KHz range, but more like 1MHz -- it was a very long time ago and the details get fuzzy. =)

        I remember paying money to upgrade it to 16K of memory or somesuch and loading data from casset

        • Well, even the TRS-80 [] ran at 1.77 MHz, which is equivalent to 1,770,000 Hz. Like I said, I highly doubt you ever owned a computer that ran in single digit Hz.
      • Yup - as commented, probably single digit MHz: the PC/AT []for example, was 6 to 8 MHz.

        Of course, at the time that came out, I was using a 7.83 MHz processor on my desk [], and had access to something a bit bigger [] for the fun stuff.
      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
        For me it was a Commodore 64 which ran at between 1Mhz and .9 Mhz. The IBM PC ran at 4.77 MHZ if I rembember correctly and and the first PC-ATs ran at 6 Mhz but your could over clock them to 8 with a little effort. Like replacing the crystal on the Motherboard.
        Single digit hz computers. Maybe when stepping through a program for testing but not for production work in my life time.
      • by AJWM ( 19027 )
        Yeah, you could almost single-step a computer faster than single digit Hz. That's in the days when there was actually a switch on the the computer front panel (along with all the blinkenlights) that took a processor in the halted state and actually stepped the circuitry through one cycle. (And when "halted" just meant the clock had been temporarilty dropped to 0 Hz, not shutdown or crashed.)
    • So, he was telling me that he figured he could get 2 GB of RAM and 500GB HD for $150. At first, I didn't believe him; then I checked prices, then I almost fell over.

      It's been ages since I built a PC for home use... Normally I just throw a list of requirements together and then hand it off to someone else to quote out the appropriate stuff... So I'm fairly out of touch with prices...

      I was recently looking on NewEgg for some upgrades to my woefully out of date gaming PC and was absolutely shocked at the pri

    • Every now and then when I stop to realize how far we've come it just bakes my noodle! =)

      You know, it is a good point about how far computers have come, but why did you have to involve religion [] in an otherwise interesting post?
  • Imagine a Beowulf cluster of those!
  • solid, hard, heavy tons of data...
  • Compare that to the 1-4GB sticks that most of us have on our keychains today.
    Perhaps that's true in this crowd I guess. (though I keep mine in my wallet, which is funny, instead of a round outline, you can see a little rectangle)
  • funny thing is.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fawzma ( 1099863 )
    there is probably an IBM site out there that is still running one of these things.
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:44PM (#21647121) Homepage
    All that 1940s-50s-60s IBM gear was fun to watch. I think they designed it that way on purposes. The mechanical engineering in those things was as impressive as the electrical engineering. I only saw a RAMAC once, when I was in high school, on a gee-whiz tour of an IBM office... it was, I think, in White Plains, New York, but might have been in New York City.

    It only had a single head, so it basically move in two dimensions. It would retract all the way out from the stack of disks then zip quickly to another disk and insert itself to read the other disk. During the visit I briefly saw it "vibrating" crazily back and forth on one of the disks. It was explained to me that it was copying a file.

    They all had those great big lighted buttons; separate on and off buttons, no push-on-push-off nonsense. the "on" button was always slightly recessed, while the "off" button always projected slightly, so that any one accidentally bumping against the machine would be turning it off rather than on...
    • the "on" button was always slightly recessed, while the "off" button always projected slightly, so that any one accidentally bumping against the machine would be turning it off rather than on...

      Why's that? Was it risky to turn one on?

  • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:49PM (#21647209)
    The RAMAC was tube controlled. In fact I have several old computer tubes, and the particular one I am thinking of is a dual triode, which means that it can form a 1-bit memory. It is about the size of 4 of my 8-Gbyte USB sticks, so its information density is about 250 billion times less. 250 billion is about 2 ^ 38. Moore's Law calls for a doubling of memory density every 18 months, so 38 * 1.5 = 57 years. And the tube was made sometime in the 50s.

    Truly Moore's Law is an amazing thing.

  • by CheeseburgerBrown ( 553703 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @05:02PM (#21647371) Homepage Journal
    ...even the simplest computer took up six city blocks, and was over ten storeys tall if you included the intercooler arrays.

    My sixteen brothers and sisters had to walk forty-six kilometers through the blistering snow to even reach the keyboard, and then even when you did each key required over nine pounds per inch of pressure to depress them. And, since this was before Dvorak composed his famous New World symphony, the keys were always arranged in a completely random order.

    Next we would chop wood and heft it into the boiler to keep the computer going, pausing only to replace vaccuum tubes or to put in a few hours at a Dickensian sweat-shop in order to afford that previous penny to buy us a sasperilly to share between us.

    We all had tuberculosis, of course, which was the style at the time.

    But did we complain? No, we didn't. We performed floating point calculations by tying little knots in the tatters from our pants, and rendered sums for the differential equations the war effort needed to bomb out the Nazis. How much RAM did we have, you ask? We had 1 bit. Today my grandson complains when his WoW refresh rates are too low, but back then we made out just fine with 1 bit of RAM and a box of Cracker Jacks.

    Monochrome? We could only dream. Our display was semichrome. And our printer? His name was Guttenberg.

    Man, those were the days.

  • I am glad i have a nice small 80MB Hard drive that only weighs 175lbs and is the size of a mini fridge.

    Isn't progress grand ;)

    Of course i can't actually TURN IT ON as it draws 1950w on startup and the old wiring in my house doesn't like that added to the seperate drive controller required plus the CPU plus the CRT....

    One of these days i'll add a 20amp circuit so i can play electronic battleship again :) hehe, i have been playing multiplayer computer games for 25 years now :O

    i have a pic if anyone wants bu
    • Just to give an idea, you can expect about only about 3000 visits over 4 hours from a link in a comment this far down in a story. Unless your photos are crazily large or your ISP has really mean quotas your site wont be "slasdoted" so just go ahead and post the link. People that enjoy this story will also enjoy your photos. Go ahead and share it around.
    • A CDC Phoenix by any chance?

      I had a 10 Mb CDC Hawk hooked up to an Alpha Micro computer c. 1982
  • ...they still have a product page for it: []

    What? They're not still selling it?
  • Try spending hundreds for a tape drive for your Commodore64, and waiting 10 minutes to load a game.

    Or $500.00 for 2Meg of Ram for my Amiga 1000.

    Or $1K for my first 1Gig hard drive, thinking I would NEVER fill it.

    I could talk about my Sinclair kit computer, but that was so long ago, I can barely remember the details myself.....

  • We've had revolutions and evoloutions in technology over the last 25 years, from removable media, display devices (GPU and display itself) printing, communications etc

    Hard disks are basically a very clever tape drive, it's sequentially laid out information that has a head clever enough to access the data anywhere on the disk.

    Sure they don't cost much now, they seem relatively reliable, sometimes even cheap, kind of big and kind of fast, well they seem that way anyhow.
    In my not so humble opinion, the hard dr
  • This article smells of bullshit. I won't believe it until I look it up on Snopes!

  • A few days ago I took apart one of the first barracuda disks (broken) and found, besides the 10 plates (beauty!) and some interesting parts of more or less unknown purpose, two extremely strong magnets for moving the head. The magnets are really strong and the drives can be bought dirt cheap or even for free.
  • Good luck with it feds... If you can move it.... and you can prove that the 1 mp3 on it, is illegal and that i downloaded it.... You deserve my taxes.

  • Whoa, hang on a second. Five megabytes is the same storage as a nice two-volume set of hardcover books. Seek time of 600 milliseconds is only one order of magnitude less than the time it takes me to look up something in an index.

    And the cost? Maybe a buck or two for the books, compared to 3200 per month in 1956.

    So what advantage do these suckers have over a couple of big books, even in 1956?

    If the "seek time" advantage is so crucial, use a RAID-0 system. Get ten girls from the typing pool to look throug
  • ...of angular momentum, that is. Wouldn't want to be near when a bearing seized on one of those.
  • Programming heroics. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by anorlunda ( 311253 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @06:07PM (#21648327) Homepage
    Not to date myself, but boy that brings back memories. I started in this business in the mid 1960s a decade after this IBM disk. We used magnetic drums and head-per-track disks for storage. That makes the IBM unit with moving heads truly advanced for 1956. But what a dog it was at 600 ms seek time! Thats milliseconds guys, not microseconds. Six tenths of a second just to move the head.

    The drum memories I used had one head per track, as did the head-per-track disks. In that case, seek time is zero (for head movement.) One need only wait for the latency time for the bytes you want to rotate under the head. Depending on rotation speed, latency could be as much as 5 to 15 milliseconds.

    The amusing part, when I think back on it, was the way that the hardware design influenced the programming. Suppose you had a clause that looked like: IF X THEN A ELSE B ENDIF. To make your program run as fast as possible, you would arrange it so that the instructions for A and for B would reside on two different tracks at the same azimuthal angle, (right behind the instructions to evaluate IF X.) That way, no matter whether the branch evaluated true or false, one didn't have to wait for additional memory latency to read the next instruction.

    We also didn't have room in RAM (core memory or registers at that time) to store data or calculated results. We had as few as 24 bytes of RAM. Thus, each data value also had to be assigned an address on the drum or disk. The location of that address relative to the code which accessed the value had a dramatic impact on program speed.

    Therefore, to optimize programs for running speed, we spent more time devising optimum ways to store the code and data fragments on the drum or disk, than we did designing the functionality of the code. What language and OS did we use? No language, just program the instructions one bit at a time. No OS.

    So what fancy apps did we do with this spaghetti software? We did real time control of power plants, both conventional and nuclear. We made flight simulators. We supported the Apollo project to send a man to the moon.

    Despite the fact that the computers of those days were as much as 10,000 to 100,000 times slower than today's hardware, the real time applications were only 10 to 100 times slower and/or of lesser scope compared to today's apps. It was because of the extreme squeeze-blood-out-of-a-stone coding methods we used in those days.

    For a really good story, get someone to write about how they streamed instructions sequences from earth to the Lunar Excursion Module for Apollo 11. Not streaming video, not music but streaming the code to execute. Buy the time one machine instruction would finish, the next one would be received and read to go. It was just-in-time delivery of the next instruction. That way, they needed no onboard mass storage of any kind. In my book, that was programming heroics that any slashdotter should appreciate.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by The_Rook ( 136658 )
      reminds me of the univac memories website and how 28, von fastrand's number, influenced univac programming. even after the fastrand disk drive became history, the legacy programs required univac programmers to keep on doing everything in groups of 28 for years afterward.

      the fastrand ii was, of course, the next generation or so after the 305 ramac. transistors instead of tubes, it was a 90 megabyte drum that wieghed 2.5 tons. so storage went from 5 MB per ton in 1956 to 35 MB per ton in 1968.

      http://www.fourm []
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Atario ( 673917 )
  • I saw one "live" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Avatar8 ( 748465 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @06:52PM (#21648903)
    It wasn't connected or running, but standing next to it gave you a pretty good perspective of how much computer technlogy has shrunk over the years.

    At Perot Systems where I worked most of this year, there's a courtyard containing many historical computer artifacts including one of these 305 disk cabinets. For contrast the curator of the "museum" placed a 40GB iPod (with the cover removed) within the case and there's a side by side comparison chart at the base of the cabinet. I forget all the statistics but it compared weight, cost, power consumption and of course, amount of data stored: 305 = 1 song, iPod = 2,000 songs. The actual character storage was extrapolated to provide more impressive numbers as well.

    It made me curious whether or not it would run if it were connected today. I'd wager it would, but it would take some of the other machines in the museum to talk to it.

  • by Old.UNIX.Nut ( 306040 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @07:50PM (#21649591)

    While I was working for an AeroSpace Sub-contractor in 72/73 we built prototype 38 inch removable HD platters for IBM.

    These were built using different core materials (mag V honeycomb) and various bonding materials/techniques.

    I don't know if they ever went into production, since I joined the Army before the project was finished.

    There I learned to operate a 258lb portable computer - powered by a towed generator - that had 12k of core memory and a 8-level paper tape reader.

    "Total domination is bad. The Microsoft dominance already badly misled people about how to choose systems. Instead of 'what tool do I use for the job' it's 'well it was shipped with the box'. Linux is a tool, Windows is a tool and so are numerous other systems. It's really important people go back to looking for the right tool for the job. That will never always be Linux. No single tool can do everything well." Alan Cox

"The eleventh commandment was `Thou Shalt Compute' or `Thou Shalt Not Compute' -- I forget which." -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982