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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: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.

  • 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! =)

  • funny thing is.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fawzma ( 1099863 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @04:43PM (#21647105) Homepage
    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...
  • 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 []

  • by sm62704 ( 957197 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @05:02PM (#21647379) Journal
    With all this improvement, why haven't we gotten to the point where I can buy a 20 GB hard for $20?

    Give it another few years. You can get a 10gb hard drive housed in a computer fof fity, including monitor, mouse, and keyboard. Used, of course, but you know what they say about begging and choosing.

    -mcgrew []
  • by CaptainPatent ( 1087643 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @05:12PM (#21647549) Journal

    ... does it run Linux
    Interestingly enough in this instance that's a good question.
    My initial response to this was "of course it does, stop being a troll" like many others commenting with this over-played cliche.

    I then thought about it harder and realized there aren't many distros that run in less than 5MB. There are distros that do it, but not many unless they're hardware router disks. This gave me the gut feeling that the answer may be yes, but then I remembered... this is well before x86 architecture became mainstream.
    I then looked into the architecture of the 305 RAMAC and found a decent wikipedia article [] on the subject. Among the interesting things about the architecture is that characters were only 7 bits! FTLA:

    Each character was 7 bits, composed of two zone bits ("X" and "O"), four BCD bits for the value of the digit, and an odd parity bit ("R") in the following format: X O 1 2 4 8 R
    With that being said I HIGHLY doubt any form of BSD or Unix was developed for this machine and thus the ability to run Linux is also highly unlikely.
  • 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.
  • 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

  • by The_Rook ( 136658 ) on Monday December 10, 2007 @11:56PM (#21651391)
    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. []
  • Re:Storage costs... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by plover ( 150551 ) * on Tuesday December 11, 2007 @12:03AM (#21651421) Homepage Journal
    2GB / 5MB == About 1/400th of your phone's memory would fit in that drive.

    Oh, you mean how many physical cards could you fit in that space? :-)

    Well, according to IBM, "Assembled with covers, the 350 was 60 inches long, 68 inches high and 29 inches deep." Pausing to convert to metric, that's 1524mm x 1727mm x 737mm, for a total volume of 1,939,745,676 mm^3. A MicroSD card is 11 x 15 x 1mm (LWD), or 165 mm^3. So you could fit 11,756,034 cards in the space occupied by that cabinet, and they would hold 25,245,890,780,332,032 bytes (22 petabytes.)

    Since you're spending all the money, though, why not go for SanDisk's 8GB MicroSD, which would yield almost a hundred petabytes? That's a storage density 11 orders of magnitude higher than the original, in only 50 years.

    Moore's Law, you rock!

A committee is a group that keeps the minutes and loses hours. -- Milton Berle