Evolution of Computer Storage Devices

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I’ve been fascinated with computers ever since 3rd grade when we started using computers in school. Back then, we started off with a Commodore 64 and would have the opportunity to use applications such as DOS and LOGO etc. It would also be a mad rush for students to win the spot of the only Color Monitor in the computer lab, as the rest of them were monochrome.

One of the things that would always catch our attention were the slim and square floppy discs that were so soft, flexible, had flashy interiors that you shouldn’t touch at ALL to avoid “fingerprints of doom” etc. We’d all be amazed at their near 1MB capacity. Today, looking back at floppy drives and comparing them with the storage media we have now, we can truly say that storage media has evolved exponentially.

Here’s a complete history of just how storage memory devices for computers have evolved ever since their inception:

Paper data storage

Believe it or not, paper has been [and still is] a form of electronic data storage as early as 1725 when Basile Bouchon used punched paper rolls to store instructions for textile looms. This technology was later developed into the wildly successful Jacquard loom.  Later during the 19th Century, telegrams could be prerecorded on punched tape and rapidly transmitted using Alexander Bain's automatic telegraph in 1846. In the late 1880s Herman Hollerith invented punched cards which were used in the 1890 census and the completed results were finished months ahead of schedule and far under budget. This technology was widely used for tabulating votes and grading standardized tests. Barcodes made it possible for any object that was to be sold or transported to have some computer readable information securely attached to it. Banks still use magnetic ink on checks that are read using MICR scanning.

Magnetic Tape

Magnetic tape has been a cult icon for data storage for over 50 years. You’ve seen them in movies where dials and rolls of tape keep spinning in super computers, to the commonly used audio & video cassettes of the 70s & 80s. Tape cartridges and cassettes were available as early as the mid 1970s and were frequently used with small computer systems. With the introduction of the IBM 3480 cartridge in 1984, large computer systems started to move away from open reel tapes and towards cartridges. The device that performs actual writing or reading of data is a tape drive.

Magnetic Disc Storage

More popularly known as floppy discs, these discs store date using various electronic, magnetic, optical, or mechanical methods on a surface layer deposited of one or more planar, round and rotating platters, more commonly referred to as a disc. To read & write information, a disc drive is used. Floppy Discs were widely used during the 80s & 90s as the benchmark portable data storage devices for personal computers. Today, floppy disc drives are considered obsolete in the presence of flash memory.

Hard Disc Drives

A hard disc drive (HDD) features rotating rigid platters (discs) on a motor-driven spindle within a protective enclosure. Data is magnetically read and written on the platter by read/write heads that float on a film of air above the platters. A typical hard disc drive has two electric motors; a disc motor to spin the discs and an actuator (motor) to position the read/write head assembly across the spinning discs. The disc motor has an external rotor attached to the discs; the stator windings are fixed in place.  Ever since they were introduced by IBM in 1956, hard disc drives have evolved from the large mechanical contraptions to more compact devices with exponential data storage capacity and tremendously lowered cost. This has allowed hard disc drives to become the most dominant device for data storage in commercial and personal computers from the early 1960s to date.

Optical Discs

Optical discs were the mainstream data storage device in the decade of the 90s and early 2000s. The data is stored and retrieved using a laser light beam focused precisely on a spinning disc. Optical discs are commonly used for storing music (e.g. for use in a CD player), video (e.g. for use in a DVD player), or data and programs for personal computers. Though losing out an uphill battle for computer usage against Flash Memory, the new Blu-Ray DVDs have breathed in a new life to optical discs, as the high quality and larger storage capacities of Blu-Ray DVDs are ideal for HD movies and console video games.

Flash memory

Flash Memory is latest and by far the most convenient methods of computer storage. It comprises of a computer chip that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed. This technology has gained mainstream popularity in the 2000s thanks to innovations in computer and mobile entertainment technology. Flash Memory Chips are primarily used in memory cards/sticks, USB flash drives, MP3 players and solid-state drives for general storage and transfer of data between computers and other digital products. As the years go by, Flash memory development has progressed and the costs have come down to general commercial usage. Nowadays you can find flash memory in nearly all computer equipment such as laptops, PDAs, digital portable audio players, digital cameras and mobile phones etc.



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