Billions and Billions Served


As long time readers of my blog know, I like to reflect from time to time on the relentless growth of processing capacity and storage density in the computing world. I’m about a week behind on the news, but felt compelled to comment on the story I saw on Slashdot last week, that Seagate announced they’ve shipped their billionth hard drive. Their first drive shipped in 1979 was 5MB and cost $1,500, or $300 per megabyte. Fast forward today, nearly thirty years later, where a terabyte drives goes for about $300, and the steepness of an exponential curve over time is revealed. Same price, one million times the capacity. By 2028, we all might have exabyte -capacity drives in our PCs.

My first hard drive was a 20MB drive in my Mac SE, which I got (thanks Mom & Dad!) when I started as an undergrad at Stanford in 1989. I don’t know what the standalone cost of a 20MB drive was, but my Mac SE was a pretty sweet machine at the time: 1MB RAM, 20MB HD, an 800K floppy drive and a screaming-fast 7.83Mhz Motorola 68000 CPU. That CPU, along the 6502, are the only two chips I ever wrote assembly code for. Ahh, memories. With the student discount, I think the whole system ran about $3500, or about $7,000 in today’s dollars.

  • I had the exact same machine! But I think the price in 1989 was $3,500 for the Mac SE/30. The lowly SE went for the bargain basement price of around $2,300 (with edu discount). I have some confidence in this figure because the trauma of writing the check is still burned into my memory!

  • Sam, ahh, yes, you are correct now that I think about it. Couldn't remember whether it was the SE or the SE/30. So did the machine have the 1.4MB “high density” floppy drive, and not just the 400k/800k drive?

  • This is kinda sad…my first computer was a dell with more memory than I know what to do with. It is incredible to think about were we will be in a few years. I have seen the tera drop to about $260 last I checked to free up my laptop. I could not even imagine having the patience to work on of these early machines. I get frustrated when google takes to long to load and meet it with an onslaught of mouse clicks like I am getting somewhere.

  • fronesis

    I think both the SE and the SE/30 were upgraded to the 'high density' floppy drive in 1989. That's a guess, but I remember that students who bought their machines the year before me had setups with no hard drives, and the two floppy drives were both 800k. I remember feeling like my machine with the hard drive and the bigger floppy drive was all powerful.

  • Are you suggesting ($3500 in 1989; $7000 in today's dollars) that there has been some inflation in the past 20 years? I thought the Fed had taken care of this little issue.

  • This is such a funny article. To think about where we have come from and where we are going. Clearly Moore is correct in his law that technology doubles every five years. A little response to Feld, it didn't help that rates were at 1% for such along time washing this country out in cash.