The Incredible Shrinking Drive

Three hard-drives, 2002 to 2012

Even after three decades of using computers, this kind of thing continues to amaze me.

On the left is the first external hard-drive I ever bought, a 120 GB FireWire EZQuest drive from 2002. This seemed so enormous a capacity that we dubbed it “Honkin’ Huge”, in honour of Honkin’ Huge Burritos in Portland (“How big are they?” we asked; “They’re honkin’” came the reply). Now it just looks enormous, and its 120 GB seems tiddlin’. It still works, though, with two partitions holding backups for an old iBook we don’t even use any more. It has a long FireWire cable, a hefty power cord, and a noisy fan.

Next to it is a 500 GB Freecom USB 2.0 drive from 2009. It’s the same physical size as an older 200 GB LaCie drive (“designed by F.A. Porsche” circa 2005) that we still have kicking around, as well as the 1.5 TB Samsung Story Station I bought to replace it in 2010. Like those, this Freecom still needs a power cord, though a smaller one than the EZQuest, but at least the noisy fan is gone. It was split into two partitions (Freakin’ Huge and Flippin’ Huge), before being demoted to a backup drive for the Samsung. When I went to back that up the other day, I found this one had died—my first external HD to kick the bucket.

So now I’ve got a new 3 TB Seagate drive, again the same physical size as the Freecom, and the Western Digital MyPassport drive on the right: 1 TB, USB 3.0, no power cord needed. In eleven years my hard drives have shrunk to about a twentieth the physical size for eight times the capacity.

But that’s nothing compared to eleven years before the EZQuest, when my first-ever hard drive was made: a considerably bigger beige box that held all of 20 MB. I inherited it for my office Mac SE from our departmental secretary in 1993, so that I could finish my thesis without having to swap 1.4 MB floppies in and out all afternoon. At the time it seemed like an ocean of space.

Between then and the EZQuest, I used a Zip drive, with what were basically removable hard disks of 100 MB each. They weren’t too expensive, but were notoriously flaky. I had to pay a hundred bucks once to recover one that died when its backup was on the other side of the Tasman.

In a few years I expect my newest drives will also be obsolete, replaced by 1 or 2 TB flash drives that fit in a fob pocket. Which reminds me of my first flash drive back in 2002, with its massive 32 MB capacity... or, for that matter, the first disks I ever used, way back in 1982: five-and-a-quarter-inch Apple II floppies holding 140 KB each.

27 July 2012 · Infotech