External hard drives have really come quite a long way in the past couple of decades. If you are not aware of what an external hard drive is, then well, you must be really living under the caves for at least a decade now. The importance of External Hard Drives were usually under estimated in the past, but the Y Gen out there really are well aware of that having an external hard drive for backup is as essential as having a computer itself.
External Hard Drives? What are they anyway?
To begin with, we will give you a brief description of what the hard drive really is. An External hard drive is nothing but a non-volatile, random access digital data storage device that sports spinning rigid platters on a spindle that is motor driven inside of a protective enclosure. First we will see about the hard disk drives that are the base of external hard drives and move on to how the external hard drives evolved with the hard disk drives.
The stone age EHDs:
The very first and ancient commercial hard disk drives were pretty large and bulky, and they were also not stored in the computer itself; hence most of these first generation hard disks can also be taken in to the category of External Hard Drives. In these hard disk drives, the hard disk platters had been stored inside protective covers or, what was known as memory units that were placed outside of the real computing unit. However, these hard disks managed to have a quick evolution and were made to be compact enough to find a place into the bays inside the computer itself. Most of the early computers such as the Apple Macintosh system even did not possess an easily accessible hard drive bays, and the Mac Plus for that matter did not have a hard drive bay whatsoever. In these models, Apple ProFile, which is an external SCSI disk was the only option.
Windows OS takes over the Computer World:
So, that was the story about the earliest of external hard drives. However, by the end of the twentieth century, the internal hard drives were made to be the choice of almost all computers that run on Windows OS, and the live of external hard drives were popular only with the Apple Macintosh’s and some of the other ‘professional workstations’ that came with these external SCSI ports. Apple had offered these interfaces as default between the years of 1986 to 1998. With the inclusion of USB and FireWire interfaces, to the common PCs had just made the scene very common in the PC markets. This set of new interfaces also added fuel to the more complex as well as expensive SCIS interfaces, which in turn led to the standardisation and reduction in cost of the external hard drives. It is not too hard to figure out that the first generation of external hard drives were not as compact or anywhere near portable like its recent successors.
The dates and incidents:
Now let us take a look at each and every step in the evolution of external hard drives that had made the large and cumbersome devices with minimal storage to a portable style icon with enormous amounts of storage spaces. It all began in 1956 when IBM first shipped their first computer hard drive in the RAMAC 305 system, which held about 5MB of data, costing a whooping 2250 pounds per megabyte. This hard drive actually was as big as two refrigerators put together and it used fifty 24” platters. It was in 1961 that IBM had invented the heads for the disk drives and in 1963, they had the first removable hard drive called 1311 which had about 6 fourteen inch platters holding 2.6MB memory.
In 1966, the company went on to introduce the first drive that made use of a wound-coil ferrite recording head. The next stage of the evolution in External Hard Drives came about in the year 1973, when IBM introduced their 3340, which was the very first of the current Winchester Hard Drive possessing low mass heads, sealed assembly as well as lubricated spindles. Another major event that happened between 1966 and 1973 was in 1970, when the General Digital Corporation, which was renamed in 1971 as Western Digital was founded in California. This too is quite significant in the calendar of External Hard Drives, as this is the company that during a period of time had a complete monopoly over the external hard drive market, a period when the other manufactures just were left for the little consumers left behind by WD.
Moving on, in the year 1978, patent was filed for the first RAID, and in the very next year, a group that was headed by Al Shugart founded the now famous disk drive manufacturer Seagate Technology. The year 1979 also saw many other inventions and evolutions in hard disk drives. It was in this year that IBM’s 3370 used 7 fourteen inch platters for storing 571MB, which was also the first device to employ thin film heads, and IBM’s 62 PC used 6 eight inch platters to store 64MB.
Evolution of Hard disk form factors:
Later this year, IBM also introduced the first GB hard drive that was as big as a refrigerator weighing about 550 pounds and was priced a whopping 25,000 pounds. It is in the year 1980 that Seagate released its first 5.25” hard disk.
From then on, the size of the hard disk drives became smaller by every year. The 3.5 inch form factor was first used in a hard drive by Rodime in 1983. This was about the same size of a FDD that was three and a half inches, which is about 1.63” high. Now, this has be completely overtaken by the 1″ slim-line or low-profile versions of this form-factor used in most hard drives of desktop PCs.
In 1988, a smaller form factor of 2.5″ was introduced by Prairie Tek. This drive did not have any corresponding FDD. This technology is now widely used in most of today’s solid state drives and hard disk drives in the mobile devices like music players, gaming consoles like Xbox, Play Stations and Laptops. The height of this form factor is mostly at 9.5mm for laptops, and higher capacity drives have a bigger 12.5”, and the Enterprise class drives can be as high as 15mm. Seagate had even released an extremely thin 7mm drive in Dec2009 that was mainly aimed at the high-end netbooks.
The 1.8” form factor was introduced by Integral Peripherals in the year 1993, which had evolved into ATA-7 LIF. This was mostly used in the sub-notebooks and digital audio players. However, this technology is hardly used today. The 1” form factor was introduced in 1999 as the micro drive of IBM to be fitted inside a CF type II slot. This form factor is also known as 1.3” drive by Samsung. The 0.85” was announced by Toshiba in January 2004, which was then used in mobile phones and other similar portable devices.
Said that, as of 2011, only the 2.5” and 3.5” hard disk drives continue to dominate the market of external hard drives or any other device that uses hard disks for that matter. And, by 2009 all the major manufacturers gave up on development of new products in 1.3”, 1” and 0.85” form factors because of the steep falling in the prices of flash memory, that were much more stable state of memory as well as much more durable.
In the late nineties, the coolest thing to have were zip disks, just like 2011is to the iPad 2. They were just like the 31/2 inch floppy disks, but it is just that it had about eighty times the storage space. These zip disks make use of a special reader that had to be connected to a computer through a parallel port. Before the invention of the zip disks, a large box of filled with floppy disks was the only way to have a copy of anything. WinZip was the only way to make backup of files that were any larger than 1.44MB. There will even be situations when you will end up recursing the subdirectories for the backup to be done with the folders and subfolders. At times, the Zip Disks are capable of holding up to 100MB , so some people even had custom built systems have a zip drive built-in. And, now a days, the floppy ports too have been left behind and none of the recent computers have them.
Bulky, expensive, non-durable:
As and when the database for businesses and storage requirements for videos and games increased, the hard drive technology was also improvised in leaps and bounds, as we had discussed above, and as the hard disk drive technology improved, so did the external hard drives. The first set of external hard drives that came in the market with the tag of “external hard drive” for the consumers were quite bulky as well as expensive too. That is just the beginning of the hassles: they demanded separate power sources and were very noisy, generating significant heat. They could never be deemed to be durable, one drop and you will just loose it all.
Before the invention of USB 2.0, the external hard drives made use of different connectors. Based on the year it was made and purpose, the manufacturer equipped it with every possible interface like custom proprietary ports, Parallel ports, USB1.1 and even FireWire. FireWire was really a blessing over the USB1.1, especially at times when looking at huge amounts of data and some demanding tasks like video editing, where throughput was mandatory. Though USB1.1 was a good option for connecting to the peripherals, often the storage capacity of the external hard drive exceeds the transfer rates of USB1.1 during the early years of the 2000s. USB1.1 is perfect for just doing some odd data transfer, but was just a pain on the ‘whatever’ for the power users.
USB2.0 and FireWire:
The interfaces of USB 2.0 and FireWire gave real hope to the external hard drive industry as they coped extremely well with the hard drive sizes and the demands of the users. USB2.0 also eliminated the need for an external power source in most of the external hard drives. With USB2.0 port, EHDs can be powered by the laptop or desktop PC it is connected to. This has come as the biggest advantage to the professional people out there and also for consumers with storage demanding hobbies like photography. Elimination of the need for a separate power source means the dive can be used anywhere, which means ample portability.
Evolution of external hard drives did not just stop with the FireWire and USB2.0. In mid 2000s, the competition for larger capacities broke out and they were soon taking in hundreds of Gigabytes. It was quite astonishing to see the rapid speed at which the industry was going. However, though the advancements in the hard drive technology and interfaces helped with the growth in the field of external hard drives, the lack of any significant growth in CPU speed was not helping the deed. The developers had very high interest in processors of about nine decades from the advent of DXs and DX2 to the employment of the AMD Cores and Pentium. But then, the hard drive storage and portable devices became the cool things and the developers were too keen with these stuff and left CPUs in the cold.
Miniaturisation of EHDs:
Another biggest stage in the evolution of the external hard drives also took place in the mid 2000s; it was nothing but the shrinking sizes of the external hard drives. The drives became much less bulkier and the storage space was also increasing and till date this trend is continuing. Once every manufacturer started offering portable hard drives, the next thing to do was, make them as durable as possible. And then, the current and continuing trend is offering as much interface as possible to increase flexibility.
Helping hand of RAM:
With this evolution, the drives were almost 1/4th the size of the older Seagate external hard drives and 1/3rd the weight. Then, this evolution took a turn when the hard drive technology found a way to take advantage of the RAM (Random Access Memory). This RAM is a bit different from the other conventional hard drives that made use of magnets for storage and writing of data. This technology was actually designed as to temporarily store program data so that, it can be executed by the system and then be displayed and also so that the users get to interact with the programs. Though this description seems to be quite raw, it will give you a rough idea of the process; hard drive is like your long term memory where important information that what degree you graduated with is stores, but RAM is just a short tem memory which stores the information of what happened last weekend that you would really like to forget in a couple of days.
So, why did we talk all about the RAM, well, yes, the RAM and External Hard Drives dated for a while and had a strange love child called Flash Drive. These Flash Drives are equipped with almost the same kind of chipset that can be found on a RAM, but the difference here is that, the Flash Drives have quite long time capacities like that of the hard drives. The Flash Drives saw a tremendous increase in storage capacities and at the same rate decreased in size. They became so small, that some were smaller than the USB interface that is used to connect them to the computer. This technology made it possible for someone to have 10GB of flash drive in the pocket with a capacity of 10GB, which was about seven thousand old-school floppy drives. Life without flash drives became impossible to imagine for students, corporate, and literally everybody. Just imagine bringing seven thousand floppy drives to submit an assignment. The professor will go nuts.
This evolution continued to develop on a high range, and even the photography industry did an amazing job in developing the small SD cards for storing data. The SD cards have also gone through a bit of an evolution; while they started off with just a couple of MBs, they too are taking in gigabytes, and they had an enormous growth that it stores large gigs in a tiny piece of plastic at the size of a toe nail. This revolution just reached the peak when Sony’s Playstation Portable originally made use of SD cards for storing game data, but then went on to store the games themselves.
In June 29 2010, Seagate had broken the capacity ceiling with the world’s first three terabyte external desktop hard disk drive. As of July 2011, this storage capacity limit has doubled, and Western Digital’s My Book Studio Edition II’s storage capacity is a whopping 6TB, with 2 bays of 3TB each. It also comes with all possible high end interface options including FireWire 800, Hi-Speed USB, Serial ATA-300 and FireWire 400.
As of today, the market of External Hard Drives gets stronger everyday, despite the craze of cloud computing. The EHDs have become integral parts of some revolutionary devices such as iPhones and iPads, and it is extremely interesting to see how they connect and communicate. These Apple products have an app called as “Bump” that allows you to share data from the hard drives with the ilk wirelessly. There is no need of any interface, not even USB, but on the downside, it raises some concerns with security. The need of evolution and innovation will never end with storage and data transfer as their needs never end. And, this will remain to be the first thing on their mind for all the developers as well as the consumers.
Overall, the evolution of external hard drives just began as a requirement for portability of data. However, this revolution is now something of a convenience, a way of social interaction, and even a style factor or as we y-gen call it, “the cool thing” to do.