Hard drive production has become easier nowadays, but it wasn’t always that way. It tool more than 57 years and a lot of hard work to get here.
The first HDD was introduced in 1956 by IBM and it was designed to work with the IBM 305 RAMAC mainframe computer. It was named the 350 RAMAC, weighed about one ton, and stored up to 5 million characters of data on 50 spinning disks.
In 1961, IBM introduced the model 1311 disk drive, which was about the size of a washing machine and stored two million characters on a removable disk pack. The main difference was that the distance between the heads and the disk surface had been reduced. This eliminated the need to remove the arm/head from one platter and move it to another. In 1967, IBM created the first floppy disk drive. In August 1976, Shugart announced the first 5.25″ floppy disk drive, at a price of $390.
The IBM 3340, or “Winchester”, was introduced in 1973 with three removable data modules, including a 35-MB and two different 70-MB modules. Its primary distinguishing feature was that the disk heads were not withdrawn completely from the stack of disk platters when the drive was powered down. Instead, the heads were allowed to “land” on a special area of the disk surface upon spin-down, “taking off” again when the disk was later powered on. This greatly reduced the cost of the head actuator mechanism, but precluded removing just the disks from the drive as was done with the disk packs of the day. The 3340 was also the first drive to feature lubricated disks and a sealed assembly.
As the 1980s began, HDDs were a rare and very expensive additional feature on PCs; however by the late 1980s, their cost had been reduced to the point where they were standard on all but the cheapest PC.
In 1980, IBM introduced 3380, shipped with a 2.5-GB capacity, making it the first commercially-available hard drive to break the GB-capacity mark. However, unlike today’s lightweight 3-GB and 4-GB hard drives, the IBM 3380 weighed over 500 pounds.
External HDDs remained popular for much longer on the Apple Macintosh. Every Mac made between 1986 and 1998 has a SCSI port on the back, making external expansion easy; also, “toaster” Compact Macs did not have easily accessible HDD bays (or, in the case of the Mac Plus, any hard drive bay at all), so on those models, external SCSI disks were the only reasonable option.
This is how a hard drive looks in 2013.