Oct 30, 2015

$866,304.61 per GigaByte

Recently I was looking for drives for a new DVR I was building. (The old one based on a 10 year old PC I inherited from one of my kids died of a fatal thunderstorm.) I looked around on the net and wound up just buying a 4TB disk at Fry's (the place where old men go to be ignored...). It was made by Seagate and cost $160. No big deal, right?

Buying that drive made me think of the first hard drive I ever owned. It happened to be made by the same company under a different name and I bought it in the early '80s. It was an ST-506. ST stood for Shugart Technology, Inc. The company was renamed Seagate Technology to avoid a law suit over the name. The ST-506 was the first hard drive intended for use with personal computers. I should mention that at the time a personal computer was most likely a Z80 with 64K of RAM. IBM had not gotten into the PC business in 1980 and a personal computer was any old computer, not what we would not call a PC.

When first introduced in 1980 the ST-506 stored 5 MegaBytes. That's right, MEGA, with an M, not GigaBytes or TeraBytes, MegaBytes. It stored 5,000,000 bytes. My new drive stores 4,000,000,000,000 bytes. Did I pound the difference in capacity into your head? The new drive stores close to a million times as much as my first hard drive.

Think of it this way. I paid $0.04 for a gigabyte of disk space a couple of weeks ago. 35 years ago I would have had to buy 200 ST-506 drives to make up a gigabyte of storage. I do not remember what I paid for that drive, it was part of a bundle... And, it was a long time ago. But, when it was first released the ST-506 cost $1,500 dollars. So, what would a GigaByte cost if using ST-506 drives? Let's see... $1,500 * 200 = $300,000 dollars. Of course, those are 1980 dollars. Taking into account 35 years of inflation and the cost in 2015 dollars is $866,304.61. That is a lot of money.

Four cents versus $866K is a... large, change in price.

It hurts my poor little mind to realize that I thought a 5 MegaByte disk was freaking HUGE back then. Today I am wishing I could make a case for building a redundant RAID out of 4 TeraByte drives.  I like RAID's, RAIDs are cool. But I just don't need that much storage right now.

We have just passed "Back to the Future" day and I was watching a documentary about that amazing movie. The folks making the documentary asked why the original film makers hadn't used CGI. The answer was that back in 1980 there was no CGI because there were no computers capable of doing CGI back then. Think about it. An ST-506 could not store even one frame of 1920x1080 HD video. Let me say that again for emphasis: an ST-506 could not store even one frame of HD video. No personal computer from that era could be used for video production work. Things we do on phones were not possible on high end workstations of that era.

The 35 years from 1980 to 2015 do not seem like a long time in a human life. It was enough time to raise a couple of kids. Pay off the mortgage on a house. Raise a dog from puppyhood to old age a couple of times over. It was enough time for the price of desktop hard drives to drop by a factor of 10 and for their capacity to increase by a factor of 1,000,000. A short time for a human. A long long time in the history of technology.

I can't wait to see what's next.