The first hard drive in history weighed a ton and was bigger than your fridge

Surely you have a pen drive to take your documents, your music or any other type of file from one place to another. Or maybe you keep them on your smartphone, because their memory goes a long way. All this you already take for granted, but it was not always that comfortable and simple. If not, ask the guy who was carrying the first hard drive in history …

Now that everything seems so simple, that our technological gadgets are becoming lighter and that using them is a matter of intuition, we usually forget how different everything was in the beginning, when our most everyday gesture was little less than an odyssey. Without going any further, can you imagine that to go to a booth to print a simple document you would have to hire a forklift? Yes, yes, a forklift just to move the ‘pendrive’ in which it is stored? Surely you think: “What a question! Then I would email it! ”Okay. But, there was no internet either!

In 1956, the Network of networks was only a chimera, the first electric computer printer had been invented only six years before and few visionaries were able to imagine a massive access to what was then only within reach of the mainstream media. communication. When memories were still recorded in black and white, computer science made a breakthrough by leaving behind the storage of data on punch cards with the development of hard drives. The first big step was taken by IBM with the development of the 305 RAMAC , an acronym for ‘Random Access Memory Accounting System’, a complex computer system (talking in silver, a beast-like computer) that contained the first commercial hard drive in history .

So they had to move the data storage unit of the IBM 305 RAMAC, the first hard drive in history (Photo: pingdom | Flickr)
So they had to move the data storage unit of the IBM 305 RAMAC, the first hard drive in history (Photo: pingdom | Flickr)

Until then, only the most avant-garde companies had access to a data hosting system using punch cards, while the vast majority remained clinging to paper and pen. To stand up to this problem and make life easier for the most clueless, the firm presented at its headquarters in San José, in California (United States), a system with a storage unit capable of housing 5 million 7-bit characters ( between 4 and 5 megabytes today) which could be accessed in just under a second. To be more exact, in 600 milliseconds.

This computer work of art was composed of a total of fifty aluminum discs, coated on both sides with magnetic iron oxide, which was a variation of the paint used in the mythical Golden Gate of San Francisco. Stacked were 152 centimeters long, 172 high and 73 deep … And weighed a ton! Inside the housing, two mechanical arms moved the discs so that they could be read.

The mechanical arms of the 305 RAMAC hard drive (Photo: IBM)
The mechanical arms of the 305 RAMAC hard drive (Photo: IBM)

Do you get the idea of ​​what 4 or 5MB means? It would not fit any of your favorite ‘apps’. Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram … They all exceed that figure. Imagine, for example, that it took ten hard drives of 1,000 kilos to store the Candy Crush. Well, that was the hard disk of the IBM 305 RAMAC.

In case you are very (very) curious about it, here you can consult the instruction book of the pot.


Although today it seems far-fetched, the idea had a lot of pull among those companies that, tired of looking for data on punch cards or cassette tapes, did not think twice before betting on the new invention of IBM. When the US firm stopped manufacturing it, in 1961, they had already produced more than 1,000 units of this computer, which were rented to companies for the negligible sum of $ 3,200 (2,381 euros) per month.

However, beyond the good work of computer engineers, the success of 305 RAMAC was the result of an idea from the marketing department. Look how curious. There are those who say that, although the technology had allowed to expand the storage capacity of the hard disk, those responsible for its commercial distribution refused. What was argument? That “they didn’t know how to sell a product with more than five megabytes.” Yes, we agree, they were not exactly visionaries …

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