I just bought a $5 million hard drive at Best Buy

February 28, 2007 | By | 5 Replies More

What I actually did was to pay $199 for a Western Digital “MyBook” 500 Gb external hard drive.  While comparing hard drive prices, however, I stopped a moment to consider how incredibly far hard drive prices have fallen over the years.  I concluded that I was getting a windfall no matter what modern hard drive I bought.  Why?  Because my benchmark is 1990, when I bought my first external hard drive.

In 1988, I was the proud owner of a Mac Plus (Mac Plus is now 20 years old. See here and here) By 1990, I was desperate for more memory. For $400, I purchased a 40 Mb (as in “mega”) external hard drive.  Its storage capacity seemed as massive to me as the big noisy metal box that housed it.

Here’s what’s amazing.  The fast little MyBook drive I just bought has the capacity of 12,500 external drives of the type I bought in 1990.  My new MyBook is also much faster and reliable than my 1990 drive, even though it’s half the size.  If I had purchased the same storage capacity of my new MyBook by buying 12,500 of those 1990 drives, it would have cost me $5,000,000.   Where would I have put them?  They would have completely filled four rooms measuring 10’ x 10’ x 8’.  

What a deal, then, to buy a hard drive nowadays, especially for those of us who had to pay those big prices for slow machines only 17 years ago.

Now, of course, I can be profligate in my use of hard disk space.  For instance, I try to go paperless at home, by scanning everything that enters the house in paper form.  Paper photos are long gone.  More than 16,000 images (many of my two daughters) occupy more than 14 Gb of my hard drive.  How many shoe boxes would all of those photos occupied, I wonder? Too many.  To process that many photos the traditional way would have cost me much more than the cost of developing 16,000 photos chemically (about $3,000 at Walgreens – 19 cents each). That’s because I delete at least half of the photos I take.

The real memory hog is video, of course, where a compressed HD video can eat up memory at a rate of more than 11 Gb per hour of video.  Ergo, the new hard drive.  Anyone who dabbles in digital video quickly discovers this.

While checking around to verify a few things for this article, I encountered these amazing statistics regarding the amount of storage media produced since 1992:

Between 1992 and 2003, roughly 1.5 billon drives shipped, capable of holding 41,400 exabytes, according to the “How Much Information?” study from the University of California at Berkeley. An exabyte is a billion gigabytes. Five exabytes would be enough to store all human speech since the dawn of time through 2002, according to the study. 

These stats are from an article dated September 2006, but I’m sure that the amount of storage capacity has grown immensely, even in the past six months.   The history of hard drives is truly an amazing story.  For more, see here or here or here.


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Category: History, Science, Technology

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. gatomjp says:

    The development of computer technology in my lifetime has been amazing! Even those of us who are old enough to remember a life before computers tend to forget how far we've come. We complain that these finicky beasts don't perform as well as we'd like, but we often take for granted the incredible things that they do.

    I am a documentary videographer. If I had to shoot, develop and edit film for my documentaries, I simply wouldn't be in the business. It's way too expensive and too difficult. The computer has enabled me to pursue a career that I might otherwise have had to pass up. I try to remember that when my computer crashes during a particularly complex project. Instead of cursing, I try to be thankful for how far I had gotten before the crash, make a cup of coffee, and start again.

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    I have not checked prices recently, but it is sometimes cheaper to build your own exernal drive, by purchasing an internal hard drive and a USB (or FireWire, etc.) enclosure, and then simply installing the drive in the enclosure. The process is easy, takes only a few minutes, and can save money (or yield faster drive speeds) compared to buying a pre-assembled external drive.

    In any case, the problem with using an enormous (500 GB) external hard drive is the difficulty of making backups, which you must do to protect yourself against when (not if) the drive crashes. One way to reduce this risk with an external drive is to disconnect it when it is not in use, to reduce its usage hours and, thus, prolong its life.

    An arguably better solution for creating a big external storage device is to build your own RAID-5 server. A RAID-5 server is a system in which data is spread across several hard drives in such a way that if one hard drive crashes, the data on that hard drive can be recreated using the data stored on the remaining drives. In other words, the system will not lose your data unless two hard drives happen to crash at the same time — something that is extremely unlikely. Building a RAID-5 server is relatively easy: obtain an older desktop computer, install a RAID drive controller card in it, then install several smaller, cheaper hard drives, then use the software that comes with the RAID controller to configure the drives in a RAID configuration. Such a device should still be backed up occasionally, but has almost zero chance of losing your data. Yes, it will cost more than a big external drive and it will not be nearly as portable, but it will require less frequent backups and will be much less likely to ruin your data.

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's a photo comparing what 1 Gb of memory looked like 20 years ago to what it looks like now. It's not just the COST that changed. http://sd4.sd-lj.si/diggit/20yago.jpg

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's what 1 Gb of storage looked like 20 years ago, and now. http://i27.tinypic.com/eqqydi.jpg

  5. Dan Klarmann says:

    Actually, the 1Gb now pic is several years out of date. Here is my year-old 1Gb from my phone. This format now comes in up to 8Gb. 1Gb = 8,260 5¼" SSDD floppy disks from my Apple ][ (a stack about 40 feet high).

    <img src="http://dangerousintersection.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/p1050989.JPG&quot; alt="Early 2007 1Gb micro-SD, $14.95 at Office Max">

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