How Technology Of Hard Disk Drives Has Evolved After Invention

The journey of hard disk drive (HDD) technology began with the invention of first ever IBM 350 RAMAC hard drive in 1956. After passing through several stages of evolution, today, hard drives have reached the heights of maturity and their technology has almost attained the most refined form. All thanks to research in this field, now hard drives are small in size, light in weight, low power consuming and extremely capacious. The level of data integrity offered by them is also a lot higher than it used to be a decade ago.

Despite of being slower than counter flash technology based solid state drives, hard disk drives still offer a lot more in lesser price. That’s a bright side of these storage solutions, you get a chance to store all that data which might not fit in one SSD, that will definitely fit in just one HDD. But since hard drives have mechanical parts inside them, you need to take care of them. One hard bump and you might lose some or all of your stored data. That happens due to the failure of any mechanical part or formation of bad sectors on platters. Manufacturers secure the internal parts of hard disk drives in hard metallic or plastic casing but failure rate due to accidental shock is still a lot higher than any non-mechanical storage device. All short comings on one side, hard drives are still preferably used by people and large corporations including data centers, web hosting and cloud storage providers as their secondary or primary data storage drives.


Now, lets just plunge into the rich history of hard disk drives and analyse how these revolutionized the computer technology over time by offering a solid medium to store the data and making it readily available to use.

From 1950s to 1979 
Reynold B. Johnson is considered to be the father, the inventor of hard disk drives. He was a long-time employee at IBM and made a new storage technology which resulted into what we have today. It was IBM 350 RAMAC storage disk drive which was introduced to the world in 1956. This storage drive had 50 large platters each 24 inches in diameter which were stacked one over other and offered a combined capacity of 3.75 MB. This less than 4 MB of capacity was enough for the storage needs of that time. This hard drive including all of its components and metallic enclosure weighed over a ton. During the late 50s, few more models of IBM disk drives were introduced which included popular at that time IBM 353, IBM 355 and IBM 7300.

IBM RAMAC 350 Storage Unit  (September 1956)

The era of 60s brought better storage technology with lots of improvements. In 1961, IBM introduced its another storage drive IBM 1301 which carried a different structure of heads used for reading the data from platter. In that hard drive, one self-acting flying head per surface of disk was used. Therefore, each disk carried its own head just like it is in modern hard drives. The same year, Bryant Computers introduced their 4000 series hard drive which was huge in size and carried up to 26 platters each 39 inches in diameter and offered a capacity of 205 MB depending on the number of platters installed. In 1962, IBM 1311 was introduced which was as large as a top-loading washing machine and was capable of using removable media. IBM 2311 was introduced in  1964. It was largely based on IBM 1311 but with higher data density per disk. This hard drive was capable of storing up to 7.5 MBs per removable disk pack with 85 ms average seek time and had 156 KB/s data transfer rate. IBM 2314 introduced in 1965 offered a capacity of 29 MB/s with a single disk pack.

It is said that the real competition in the industry of hard disk drives began when Memorex made its first hard drive Memorex 630 compatible with IBM model 2311. Later in 1969, Memorex introduced another Memorex 660 hard drive which was compatible with IBM 2314. These hard drives were basically ‘plug compatible’ storage disk drives which could be used in place of IBM’s hard drives just like we can switch our choice today and buy some other manufacturer’s hard drive.

Hard drives kept up evolving in 70s but their size was still larger than any small size refrigerator. The introduction of IBM 3340 Winchester brought another revolutionary change in primitive hard drive technology. This hard drive was designed to use removable sealed disk packs which contained heads and arms within the disk pack. Now, offered capacity was boosted to 70 MB per disk pack. The same year, Control Data Corporation introduced its SMD storage disk drives series which in the start offered 40 MB of capacity per disk pack. During 1970s, the OEM hard drives production channel grew stronger due to the stepping in of several hard drive manufacturers like Control Data Corporation (CDC), Calcomp, Diablo Systems and Memorex. IBM’s technology also improved and many new capacious hard drives were introduced to consumers which included IBM 3350 Madrid introduced in 1976 and offered 317.5 MB of storage capacity and IBM 3370 introduced in 1979 offered 571 MB of storage space per non-removable disk packs.

From 1980 to 2000 
Hard drives manufacturing business took a new turn in 80s when many new companies like Western Digital, Seagate and Samsung plunged into its business and started manufacturing their own line of hard drive products. During 1980s, first internal hard drive was invented which was small in size and can easily fit in PC. From that time, hard drives grew in storage capacity and compatibility with modern computers and also shrunk in size which ultimately resulted in to what we have today. So, 80s are important in the history of hard drives when foundation was laid for small size modern hard drives.

In 1980, first 5.25 inch internal hard drive was introduced by Seagate, ST-506 which offered a total storage capacity of 5 megabytes. ST-412 manufactured by Seagate was introduced in 1981 and offered 10 MB storage space. Rodime RO351/RO352 were first 3.5 inch disk drives introduced in 1983 which offered 6.38 MB (RO351) and 12.75 MB (RO352) storage capacities. In 1988, first 2.5 inch hard disk drive was introduced by PrairieTek. It was PrairieTek 220 model which offered 20 MB storage capacity.

In 1990s, storage space of hard drives reached gigabytes with standard 5.25 inch and 3.5 inch disk size using PRML and magnetoresistive heads technology. IBM 0681 Redwing  introduced in 1990 was the first hard drive to use “Partial Response Maximum Likelihood (PRML)” technology which offered 857 MB capacity with twelve 5.25 inch disks, and IBM 0663 Corsair introduced in 1991 used magnetoresistive heads for the first time and offered 1004 MB storage space with eight 3.5 inch disks.

These two decades starting from 1980 till 2000 proved to be setting new trends and standards in hard disk drive technology. Standardization of SCSI, ATAPI, UltraDMA/33 etc and utilization of newly invented technologies resulted into production of efficient hard drives which were smaller in size and capacious providing a mean to store a lot more data which was never possible before.

From 2000 to present 
The 21st century brought a new revolution in the technology of hard drives. This is the century when extremely thin and extremely large in capacity hard drives are being manufactured. It all started when imagined barrier of 137 GB was broken in 2002 and hard drives started touching terabytes capacity in late first decade of new century. Certain new technologies were invented during this period of time and many of them were standardized allowing mass of manufacturers to produce their hard drives with those technologies. Included were standardization of  Serial ATA (SATA) 3 Gbps in 2005  2 years after its introduction and introduction and standardization of faster Serial attached SCSI (SAS). Serial ATA technology has got evolved over the course of time and today much faster Serial ATA is in use. It is not only used with hard disk drives but also with solid state drives and media disc drives like CD/DVD/Bluray drives. SSDs can utilize the full potential of new SATA technology instead of HDDs as HDD is still much slower than counter NAND flash technology based SSD.

The use of core technologies like Perpendicular Magnetic Recording (PMR), heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), Tunnel Magneto Resistive Read Sensor (TMR), Thermal Spacing Control, Advanced Format, Helium-filled drives, Hybrid of solid state drive and hard disk drive (SSHD), Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) and certain more technologies has not only changed the hard drive manufacturing business but also changed the taste of consumers when hard drives started to offer several terabytes of storage space in a very low price. Kick starting the portable hard drives business in addition to internal hard drives gave an opportunity to users to change their style of backing up the data. Additionally, it also pushed the revenue of hard drives manufacturers sky high. These days, if someone is not using any internal hard drive, he must be using a portable hard drive for backup purposes. Today, if hard drives are extremely small in size and weighs no more than few dozen grams or few hundred grams, and also consume very little electric power, it all happened due to the research work of brilliant minds which not only revolutionized the storage technology but also opened doors to certain new businesses like cloud storage, digital data centers, online data sharing services and much more.

During the course of evolution of hard drives, many companies jumped into its business and several simply went bankrupt when they failed to keep up with the competition or their manufactured hard drives lagged in quality. There is a long list of defunct hard drive manufacturers who appeared in history and disappeared completely. Seagate and Western Digital, these two companies have always proved to be champions in buying sinking hard drives business of other companies. Today, only few companies like Toshiba, Seagate and Western Digital are actually manufacturing almost all hard drives. Portable hard drive brands of several other companies which sell them with their own labels actually contain hard disk drives inside their enclosure manufactured by any of these three corporations.

Author’s Note: This is my personal research work which I have published in this post for public. The hard drive technology has passed through so many phases of evolution that if I had wanted to sum that all up here, that would have resulted into a much longer blog post than that. I have tried to summarize it mentioning some worth noting points from the timeline of hard drives.

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