1GB, Twenty Years Ago and Today

By Shamus
on Oct 23, 2007
Filed under:
Pictures

This picture has been making the rounds lately:

storage_1gb.jpg

That’s one gigabyte of storage twenty years ago and today. Look at that 1987 behemoth. You just know the thing is a spine-pulverizing anchor to lug around.

The comparison above is a bit apples to oranges though, since we’re comparing two different storage mediums. Still, it’s easier to show the memory card than it is to show 1/500th of a modern drive, and I’ll bet the size comes out roughly the same. Someone posted that picture in the FTB forums, and Flaming Penguins posted this in reply:

storage_2gb.jpg

Back in 1993 I had a job that involved working with and caring for a dusty old mainframe. It was a hot, vibrating, noisy creature. A cruft golem. It had circuit boards the size of motherboards, and motherboards the size of a ship’s rudder. The hard drives were massive, shuddering engines of storage. Their combined volume approached that of major household appliances, and I’m sure it didn’t exceed a gigabyte. In short, the hard drive pictured above would have been a major leap forward for us. It was a strange system. It had a proprietary inventory / order system that ran on top of a proprietary operating system. Holy double yikes. Our sysadmin’s job was equal parts IT and necromancy.

Perhaps this is where I acquired my love of steampunk. While my job description didn’t require me to shovel coal into the howling iron thought apparatus while keeping an eye on the steam pressure, there were many days when such clarity of purpose and straightforward interface would have been welcome.

Looking forward, it’s interesting to see how the advance of CPU speeds has at last abated slightly after decades of exponential growth. Hard drives, however, still strive to meet the demands of the data packrats of the future: Hitachi promises 4 TB drives by 2009.

Still no robot girls.

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201939 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. BChoinski says:

    What’s scary is that all of the modern stuff is getting so feed-back-looped into smaller and better stuff.

    Any sort of tech hiccup (natural disaster) that damages our technical infrastructure could force us _backwards_ in technology since we would have to remake all the machines to make the machines to make the machines again.

    In other words, in the Star Trek universe, if they were stuck on a world without their replicators, they were pretty much screwed into the stone age.

  2. Downtym says:

    I think someone needs to formalize the “Universal Porn/Disk Space Phenomena”. Simply stated, the hypothesis is that any empty disk space that can be filled with porn will be and the amount of porn grows to fill any empty disk space. Porn, if you will, abhors a vacuum. Obviously, we need to come up with a porn density function so that we can understand the amount of porn per disk or some amount of disk. I wonder if it would be constant…

  3. Renacier says:

    “Thought Apparatus” would be a great name for a band.

  4. Alexis says:

    One of my dad’s earlier jobs involved pouring water into computers. For cooling.

    My granddad was a maths lecturer. One day they got this machine which did stuff with numbers. Obviously a maths thing, he taught the CS course next year.

    3rd gen and proud.

    BTW your ads are getting a tiny bit… ridiculous. Astonia specifically.

  5. Mari says:

    You’re making me nostalgic. Ah, I remember the days when you started your computer booting, went outside for a smoke, came in and the DOS prompt was just popping up. Then you used your 600 baud modem to dial into a far-distant server and went for another smoke while it was connecting and loading. Now I get annoyed if load times for webpages (not something you could even do with those old 600 baud modems) exceeds 3 seconds. Technology is a beautiful thing.

  6. roxysteve says:

    Never mind these new-fangled EDS things. How many of you have seen real core memory? The sort that could stop your watch?

    Whippersnappers!

    Steve.

  7. BChoinski says:

    Scary think is I have dealt with stuff, from 8k core in old PDP-8’s (in high school), through damned heavy 300MB disk packs at Prime Computer, up to current state of the art. I have tried to impress on my youngest daughter what it was like in the “stone age” of computers and to try an imagine what she will be telling her kids about what they had to deal with.

    Current tech makes Traveller (GDW) stuff so laughable.

  8. Strangeite says:

    BChoinski:

    I have been thinking alot about that very aspect of civilization. We are literally standing on the shoulders of giants that were standing on the shoulders of giants, ad infinitum. To that end, I have been exploring the possibility of establishing a wiki dedicated to technology, specifically the practical application and implementation of technology. Basically the central idea is that you have a page dedicated to a technological component, and hyperlink to its underlying technologies.

    For example. If you take refrigeration, you would have detailed plans on the principals behind modern refrigeration including how evaporation absorbs heat, etc. But then you hyperlink to pages on electric motors, which would have hyperlinks on creating copper wire, which links to articles on how to smelt copper, which links to pages on how to mine copper ore.

    If anyone has an interest in talking about this project or helping out, feel free to email me at strangeite at gmail dot com.

  9. jsc says:

    So that when civilization melts down, you can fire up your laptop, snarf some wifi, browse to your wiki and use it to “reboot” civilization?

  10. Fenyx says:

    RE: Strangeite

    I love your idea for a wiki… I hope you have plans to regularly print off paper copies though. Otherwise it is fairly useless. :)

    Reminds me of the TV show Connections…

  11. Strangeite says:

    I recognize the irony of creating a wiki about the underpinnings of civilization, but using a wiki such as the one provided by WikiMedia, a person can download the entire wiki to use offline. In fact there is a group of individuals out there providing documentation for downloading all of Wikipedia to use offline.

    I agree that rebooting civilization was the catalyst for the project, but since then it has morphed into also providing a resource for individuals interested in the “how” of technology.

  12. Deoxy says:

    “We are literally standing on the shoulders of giants”

    Really? LITERALLY?!?

    Sorry, one of my stronger pet peeves. People are watering down the meaning of the word “literally” to mean some form of “emphatically”. There are PLENTY PLENTY PLENTY of words that can be used for “emphatically”!

    There is ONE word for “literally”. Please please PLEASE don’t ruin it.

    (It’s already close – when I use it properly, I often feel the need to point out that I am using its actual definition.)

    :-(

  13. DaveJ says:

    Strangeite, is that what the guy at Eject Eject Eject is doing?

  14. Rask says:

    The thing is, this technological hiccup that will throw us back to the stone age will never happen.

    Even though you or I don’t know how to run a power grid, there are thousands of people out there who do, and more are coming out of college and university every year.

    Also, check out your local book store’s sections for mathematics and maintenance. It’s all there.

    Furthermore, if a magic wand was waved and computers disappeared tomorrow, we’d only be thrown back two generations. Seems prehistoric for us, but it wasn’t so bad for our grandparents back then.

  15. Will says:

    @ DaveJ

    Kinda-sorta.

    As I understand it, he’s trying to create a digital version of a classic library, with with more than just a facts page on your selected topic. He wants reader-submitted articles on anything they consider themselves knowledgable about. Stuff like how to fix a leaky P-trap under the sink. Or how to boresight a rifle.

    Wikis have a lot of raw facts, but he also wants to have information on the useful application of those facts.

  16. Phlux says:

    I forwarded that picture around my office. That’s awesome. It looks like something out of Half-Life. Are you sure that isn’t an attachment for the Gravity Gun? Perhaps Black Mesa’s version of a portal generator.

    As for CPU speeds, while the clock speeds haven’t increased as rapidly as in years past, I think the number of transistors on the chip has roughly kept pace with Moore’s law. In fact with Dual Core processors you’re now seeing a decrease in per-core clock speeds.

  17. Shamus says:

    Chobits is fun. And just the thing to cleanse the DR SHRINKER reference from earlier today!

  18. Jattenalle says:

    “Still no robot girls.”

    You need to keep up to date dear Shamus.
    They’re several hours old by now… you’re living in the past!

    pinktentacle.com/2006/10/actroid-der2-fembot-loves-hello-kitty/
    Youtube video at the bottom of the article.

  19. roxysteve says:

    BChoinski:
    Scary think is I have dealt with stuff, from 8k core in old PDP-8’s (in high school), through damned heavy 300MB disk packs at Prime Computer, up to current state of the art. I have tried to impress on my youngest daughter what it was like in the “stone age” of computers and to try an imagine what she will be telling her kids about what they had to deal with.

    Current tech makes Traveller (GDW) stuff so laughable.

    Stone age? The PDP-8 had no ferrite rods suspended on 8 foot barn doors, required no lengthy boot from tape as it had an integral disc drive (not even a halfway respectable drum, but a fully fledged multi-platter disc) And had integrated circuits in it.

    This is well-into-the-industrial-revolution technology.

    Come back to me with your tales of computers in which a 5×10 (ish) circuit board had two-count-em-two AND gates on it, the arithmetic-logic unit was in a separate cabinate and the machine had a grand total of three registers in which to perform one calculation per several op cycles (one for each operand and one for the operator) and you might move back into the bronze age, about where I started getting paid for working with the machines. If you can’t remember not having cache memory, you are several generations too young to play. :o)

    Transistors? Pah! Never should have moved off the pentode valve standard.

    Steve.

  20. roxysteve says:

    I’m so old I forgot how to spell cabinet. Must be the result of all the unshielded electronics in those old mainframes.

    Steve.

  21. Taelus says:

    Ok, is it bad that I think that older drive looks freakin’ cool? Then again, I work in a thin film magnetics lab and we’re doing stuff for data storage. None of it is anywhere as spiffy looking as that number. Ah well.

    On a completely unrelated topic, and probably of no interest to anyone at all, I’m terribly sad that I didn’t make the cut to get World Series tickets for the games here in Colorado. I guess I’ll just have to cheer from my couch. I do hold myself to the consolation that the food will be much better…

  22. Edhering says:

    Once I was watching Apollo 13 and came to the scene where Tom Hanks was showing some VIPs around Canaveral. He was bragging about the new technology NASA had and mentioned having a “computer which can store millions of pieces of information, yet fit in a single room”.

    I looked at my 8 MB Handspring Visor sitting on the side table, and laughed. You could have run the entre freaking space program in 1970 with that thing.

  23. Phlux says:

    I just read the linked article about Hitachi’s 4TB drive. They mention an announcement at the “perpendicular magnetic recording” conference.

    That is hilarious and terrifying at the same time. Can you imagine how mindnumbingly boring that conference must be?

    But I find humor in thinking about the drama that must go down when the perpendicular magnetic recording guys run into the parallel magnetic recording guys. Obviously they had a big enough rift that they had to separate conferences.

    In my head I picture something like the News Team showdown in Anchorman, especially when the solid state guys come to town.

  24. MintSkittle says:

    I wonder what the storage capacity would be if it was made using modern technology.

  25. Katy says:

    What the hell would I ever do with 4 terabytes of space? Never delete anything, I guess…

    I’m no expert, but I don’t think we’ve had nearly the same kind of growth with processor speeds. I mean, yes, today’s processors are much faster, but still, it’s processor speed and the amount of memory that limits how well my computer runs applications (especially multiple applications at the same time). And I just got a new computer, too. -_-;

  26. Martin says:

    Katy:
    When I was in high school I had 2 floppy disks that I had to turn over to write on the top side. They held 400K and I was sure I was set for life.

    You will store video, and images. You won’t delete anything, and you will keep all of the revisions of all of your documents…. Then you will move it all to a 16TB drive when you upgrade.

    You can never be too rich, or have too much disk space.

    Martin

  27. Telas says:

    Microsoft Office document size and processing needs will expand as space allows…

    It’s the 21st century version of “keeping up with the Joneses”

  28. Doug Sundseth says:

    It sounds as though Roxysteve is yet more ancient than I am, but I was the operator for a computer whose only persistent storage was paper tape. You know how the holes in loose-leaf paper in a three-ring binder will tear with use? The operating system (“only persistent storage”, remember) was a few thousand tiny holes in paper less durable than that notebook paper.

    To start loading the OS from that fragile strip of paper, you had to enter the bootstrap program into the front of the computer bitwise with toggle switches.

    64K bytes, two TTY and three CRT terminals.

    Really.

    ps. You know how the ASCII name for Ctrl-G (7) is “Bel”? That’s because it rang the bell on the TTY.

  29. BChoinski says:

    #20 (roxysteve)
    Ok, stone age to me then. I bow to your old-cootness. :}

  30. BChoinski says:

    #29 (Doug Sundseth)
    In high school our group pretty much ran the PDP-8. We had various games and programs that we created and saved to the tape rolls, and we would post the locations for other students on the cork board so they could play them. We had good relations with the math department, and we sort of became a mini IT there (we could reboot it if it crashed, using the toggle switch programming).

    You know how geeky you could get with those old teletypes? We had programs to type out large letters on the tape strips to make “strip banners”, and we had strips that would ring the bell in patterns sort of like songs.

  31. Heather says:

    My first husband used to work in a company that had the “mainframe room”. The room was huge, had its own air-conditioning system (and God help everyone if the air-con broke down), an airlock and a halon gas system for putting out fires. It was a true-dink “Big Blue” IBM and each of the half-dozen hard drives were in cabinets that stood about chest-high. My hubby was one of the admins for it and yeah, necromancy is a good term for it. It was more magic than science to keep that thing running.

  32. roxysteve says:

    Doug Sundseth:
    It sounds as though Roxysteve is yet more ancient than I am, but I was the operator for a computer whose only persistent storage was paper tape. You know how the holes in loose-leaf paper in a three-ring binder will tear with use? The operating system (”only persistent storage”, remember) was a few thousand tiny holes in paper less durable than that notebook paper.

    To start loading the OS from that fragile strip of paper, you had to enter the bootstrap program into the front of the computer bitwise with toggle switches.

    64K bytes, two TTY and three CRT terminals.

    The machine I started work on also had paper-tape binaries. Luckily we didn’t use them after they got the spiffy EDS units in (difficult to run an online transaction system using load on demand paper-tape binaries). Mine only had 16 k though, and some jobs were so big you had to remove parts of the OS to make ’em fit.

    Did your colleagues do that thing where they reset one of the toggle switches for every new hire, so the machine couldn’t find its overlays?

    I loved paper-tape. You could drop it and it would still work (not so a deck of cards). You could make moon-rovers ot of them with a pencil and a rubber band. You could booby-trap the door to the machine room by attaching a reel of paper-tape over the door and thumb-tacking the middle of it to the door. Admittedly I did once make a flying Klingon cruiser out of punch cards, but that was years later on a modern mainframe with ICs in it.

    Steve.

  33. BChoinski says:

    Not to mention the fun of a billion paper tape holes out of the bins.

  34. roxysteve says:

    You mean “chads”. Very dangerous things, either for cards or paper tape, since you could inhale them or get them in your eye without really trying. They were off limits for tomfoolery to all but the most idiotic.

    At that first job, I remember when the chief programmer got married and the punch-room girls covered her car in washing-up liquid and dumped paper-tape chads all over it. The car never ran again. The mechanic even pulled spindled chads out of the carburretor jet! They had cut through the paper of the air filter when she started it. Of course, by then every moving part had razor sharp chads gumming up the works. The car was written off.

    No playing with chads.

    Steve.

  35. Doug Sundseth says:

    BChoinski: “We had programs to type out large letters on the tape strips to make “strip banners”, and we had strips that would ring the bell in patterns sort of like songs.”

    Yeah, we did the banner thing, but the bell just got used for annoyance.

    Roxysteve: “Did your colleagues do that thing where they reset one of the toggle switches for every new hire, so the machine couldn’t find its overlays?”

    That was in HS, so “colleagues” would be a bit misleading. 8-) The worst I did, I think, was to write a terminal “emulator” for the terminals. It would take input as normal and respond with the right prompt right up until you tried to run the program that you just typed in. Then it would error out.

    In retrospect, this was unreasonably cruel, since the class that it was inflicted on was a beginning programming class. But it sure seemed funny at the time.

  36. ArchU says:

    Who’d want a robot girl made by Hitachi…?

  37. Carl says:

    I’m dating myself but my first computer programming class was done on punch cards.

  38. Tacoma says:

    RE: I think someone needs to formalize the “Universal Porn/Disk Space Phenomena” … Porn, if you will, abhors a vacuum …

    They should make every new computer come preloaded with a program to procedurally generate porn. It starts with you selecting one picture that you like more, the one on the left or the one on the right. After a few dozen iterations it has determined your preferred style of porn and whenever you want some you just fire up the porn generator and select your profile. You can create multiple profiles if you like. Just tell it how many pictures, videos, or sounds you want and the program will churn them out immediately. When you’re through viewing the porn you just close the program.

    It’d take up minimal disk space and you’d never have to go out to the Internets again.

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