Terabyte hard drives before the end of 2006?

Written by Brett Thomas

August 15, 2006 | 18:13

Tags: #terabyte

Companies: #hitachi

Happy birthday, hard drive! On September 13, the hard drive as we know it will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Magnetic storage has come a long way from the days of the old IBM RAMAC in 1956, which weighed in at roughly a ton and only held 5MB - across fifty 24" platters. Now, the VP of Hitachi is talking about crossing the 1TB barrier before 2006 ends, and all that fits in 3.5" of space.

For reference, the initial RAMAC storage held that 5MB in a cube nearly 2 meters per side. We're now talking 200,000x the storage in under 1,000th of the volume. That's a long way, and it keeps growing - the hard drive roughly doubles its data capacity every two years now, on an almost linear movement.

It's that type of predictable swing that has Hitachi's VP, Bill Healy, thinking we'll hit the 1TB mark. Seagate is already offering a 750GB drive, so a terabyte is certainly conceivable.

Speaking of Seagate, the company is releasing a 120GB 1.8" drive (for things like the Apple iPod) in December, as Seagate's CEO William Watkins mentioned to BusinessWeek in an interview about the relative upstart NAND Flash memory business and what that means to his company. Though the look into Seagate's upcoming products is a neat highlight, don't let it obscure the rest of the interview. there's a lot of great things in it.

Watkins took the time to answer the industry's concerns about upcoming flash memory and whether the technology is poised to make magnetic hard drives obsolete. His view on the matter? Hard drives aren't going anywhere - they are fifty years old, but they still have a lot more life left in them.

"Every time [Hitachi, Toshiba, and Samsung] talk about how great flash is going to be I've said, great, then sell me your hard drive business," said Watkins.

"There's going to be a lot of flash storage sold, no doubt about it. But here's the other thing about flash. If you think about moving content between your home and your handheld and your car, and you have a device whether it has a flash drive or a hard drive, somewhere there's an enterprise server that has delivered the content to your home. And you've downloaded from a PC to your handheld device, and eventually you may want to move to your car or whatever. But if you think about it, that behavior of moving that music drove three storage purchases: One at the enterprise level, one in the home, and one in your hand. If the flash guys get the handheld one, that's great for them. I get the home and the enterprise one."

To date, nobody has taken Mr. Watkins up on his offer to sell their hard drive buisness to him, so it's hard to argue with his position. His reasoning largely gets its support from price per gigabyte of space, particularly when it comes to economies of scale. Flash memory has an almost linear relation in gigs per dollar due to how it is made - double the storage means double the chips, and therefore double the price. Hard drives, on the other hand, can scale up cheaply, as only another platter needs added instead of a whole second drive.

Have you got a thought on the hard drive hitting 50? How about on the future of the magnetic mastermind behind your data? Tell us your thoughts in our forums.
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