It’s hard to believe that the hard drive that is now so ubiquitous evolved from punch card, vacuum tubes and magnetic drums. It’s hard to conceptualize that a vacuum tube can hold 512 Bytes (or half a kilobyte)–where does a vacuum tube write data to?

The first hard disk drives cost over $200 per megabyte(MB) and needed a giant room and air conditioning to keep the drive cool. Now hard drives cost pennies per megabyte and fit in the palm of you hand! If cars evolved as quickly as hard drives we’d be flying around, getting 1000 miles per gallon all for under $1000. Or if food evolved like hard drives we’d all be eating tiny pellets that are as healthy as spinach, broccoli and whole wheat bread and tasted like any flavor we wanted.

While the exponential growth of data storage in combination with its shrinking in footprint is interesting, it is not in and of itself useful. What makes these advances exciting is how engineers are using the tiny hard drives and memory. They have taken advantage of the technology to create a slew of miniature consumer electronics like digital cameras and digital video recorders that would have seemed impossible only a few years ago–and they’re available at amazingly low prices. For example the evolution of the cell phone is tremendous and follows the evolution of data storage.

The cell phone started as a portable telephone:

Big Cell Phone

The cell phone it becomes a personal digital assistant by adding a little memory:


The cell phone then becomes an email device that has some great applications:


Finally the cell phone becomes a miniature computer that can do almost everything a desktop computer that can’t be called a cell phone any more:


The price for each of these electronic devices is nearly the same at the time it came out even though the devices functionality exponentially increased.

Royal Pingdom’s blog’s The History of Computer Data Storage , is an interesting article that has great historical pictures of data storage though he should not be considered a definitive expert on data storage. Royal Pingdom and other bloggers are a great place to start, but what they say needs to be fact checked at other sites like Wikipedia, manufacturers, academic papers and traditional media like the New York Times.

The future of the data storage, according to Samsung and SanDisk and other companies that produce hard drives, is the solid state hard drive. The solid state hard drive is just a much bigger version of the USB thumb drives that we’ve been using for the past few years. There are many advantages to the solid state drive like

1) Faster access time

2) No moving parts to break (though modern hard drives don’t break that much)

3) A very thin light form factor

Apple was able to create two of their most drool worthy devices, the iPod Touch and the MacBook Air, because the existence of large solid state drives. Apple designs products differently. Rather than assembling the parts that are needed and constructing the device in the most appealing way; Apple designs the device and finds the parts that fit the design.

As solid state drives become larger in capacity and smaller in size engineers will find new and exciting break throughs to enchant and delight consumers.