Sunday, 1 January 2012

Thanks for the Memory ...

In September 1956 IBM launched the 305 RAMAC, the first ‘super computer' with a hard disk drive (HDD) that weighed over a ton and stored 5MB of data. It required a forklift to move it.


Incidentally, the first ever business computer was developed not by an electronics lab or a university but by Lyons’ Coffee Houses. In 1951, LEO 1 – Lyons’ Electronic Office – began calculating the company’s weekly bakery distribution totals. The computer filled 5000 square feet of office space but was so successful that LEO 2 machines were soon developed and sold to companies such as Ford and BOC and to Customs and Excise and the Post Office. 

Now, this is what a 1GB drive looked like in 1987 compared to a modern day 1GB SD card:

1GB   1981 and now

We sometimes forget how much computers have evolved in terms of computing power and memory capacity. I carry an 8GB USB flash drive on my keyring and think nothing of it. I have three 1TB external hard drives attached to my home computers. And yet, my first IBM 286 PC, bought in 1988, had a mere 40MB hard drive and I wondered at the time how I was ever going to fill it all up. Go back 40 years and we find NASA’s AGC computer. It filled an entire room and had a working memory (RAM) of 32KB with wardrobe-sized 5mb storage units.

My keyring has 1,600 times more memory capacity than each of those cupboards. And my 4GB RAM home computer is 125,000 times more computing power than the machine that helped put Man on the Moon.

The price of memory has dropped as rapidly as capacity has grown. In 1955 5MB would have cost you around £30,000 ($50,000). By 1985 the price of 5MB had dropped to around £2,400 and by 1995 you could get 1GB for around £500. In the shops right now a 2TB hard drive will cost you around £85. At current prices, the 5MB that cost you £30k in 1955 will now cost you 0.000085p.

15 MB Hard Drive!

Oh, just to be clear, a kilobyte (KB) is 1000 bytes. A megabyte (MB) is 1,000,000 bytes or 1000KB. A gigabyte (GB) is 1,000,000,000 bytes or 1000MB. A terabyte (TB) is 1000,000,000,000 bytes or 1000GB. In storage terms, 1MB equates to around 500 pages of A4 typed on one side and single-spaced.

And we need this storage. It has been calculated that the volume of information is expanding 10 times faster than any other product on this planet - manufactured or natural. UC Berkeley economists Hal Varian and Peter Lyman claim that information is increasing at 66% per year - approaching the rate of Moore’s law (see below) - while manufactured goods like steel, paper and furniture averages only around 7% annual growth. ‘The world produces between one and two exabytes of unique information per year, which is roughly 250 megabytes for every man, woman, and child on earth’, they point out. To put that into perspective, an exabyte is a billion gigabytes. Printed documents of all kinds comprise only .003% of the total.

The HDD of your dreams!

Photos and movies make up a much larger proportion of all stored data. Digital cameras are now ubiquitous - it is estimated that 2.5 billion people in the world today have a digital camera, even if only built into a mobile phone. If the average person snaps 150 photos this year that would be a staggering 375 billion photos. That might sound implausible but this year people will upload over 70 billion photos to Facebook, suggesting around 20% of all photos this year will end up there. Already Facebook’s photo collection has a staggering 140 billion photos, that’s over 10,000 times larger than the Library of Congress. And you might be interested to know that in at least one survey, approximately 76% of all UK Facebook pictures involve alcohol to some degree.

There currently exist (including all of the paper photographs) around 3.5 trillion individual images. Every two minutes today we snap as many photos as the whole of humanity took in the 1800s. In fact, 10% of all the photos that exist were taken in the past 12 months. It can only get worse ...

Hard drives 1979-2011

Two things we can be sure of is that our computers have built-in obsolescence and that the need for forklift trucks is probably passed.

Oh, and Moore’s Law is named after Intel founder Gordon E Moore and states that the number of transistors that can be placed on a single circuit board doubles every two years. Moore suggested this idea in 1965. It’s proved to be true so far. Therefore the computers in two years’ time will have twice the computing power of the one you have now.

With thanks to 9GAG and  Texomatube via Chris Wild (The Retronaut),  1000Memories and this very informative site that has the price comparisons for computer memory from the 1950s to the present.

1 comment:

  1. hi..Im student from Informatics engineering, this article is very informative, thanks for sharing :)