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Storage media history

Computer Data Storage Through the Ages — From Punch Cards to Blu-Ray (print page) has a pictorial list of the most popular data storage devices. Some of them (those I still have evidence for in the closet!) include

IBM Punch Card, 1725 – 1975, 960 bits (80 characters or bytes) – usually used as card decks that sometimes were several feet thick. Originally designed for the US census, they could be manually manipulated for statical evaluations.

IBM Magnetic Tape, 1951 to present – the half inch circa 70’s mainframe tape of 2400 to 4800 feet could store 100kB – the mainstay for mainframe archival purposes.

Audio Cassette Tape, early 70’s to late 80’s, 700kB per side on a 90 minute cassette – essentially like using a modem except to tape rather than phone line.

5.25″ floppy, 1976 – 1982, 1.2 MB in high density, 360k was common circa 1980 for microcomputers

3.5″ floppy, 1982- , 1.44MB although 720k single density were common in the early years.

CD, 1980 – , 700 MB.

Colorado Backup (tape), early 90’s – 2001, 14 GB in later versions, 100 MB early.

CompactFlash, 1994 – , now up to 64 GB. This has branched out to SD memory and other card types used in portable devices and also the USB flash drives. Modern card readers often talk about being able to read 20 or more interface types for these devices.

Zip Drive, 1994 – 2003, 750 MB

DVD, 1995 – , 4.7 GB or 8.5 GB dual layer – this is an upgrade to the CD and is being upgraded by HD-DVD and Blue Ray starting about 2006. All use optical technologies on similar disk media.

So the capacity increases, the space requirements decrease, the cost of media decreases, and the more wide use in the consumer market brings the media drives down in price. For instance, both floppies and CD drives started out about about $400 and ended at a tenth that price. Inflation for the 20 years between the peak use times for these drives would make the comparison even more interesting.

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