15 Years Of Hard Drive History: Capacities Outran Performance

Hard Drives: 40 MB To 750 GB - 3,500 To 10,000 RPM

We decided to go back in time by 15 years, starting with one of the early IDE hard drives: just 40 MB. We then moved on to a model from the mid-90's (3.2 GB), jumped to a double-digit gigabyte capacity unit (10 GB), and then upgraded to one with a more modern capacity of 60 GB. Finally, we looked at both the largest and fastest hard drives available today: the Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 at 750 GB, and Western Digital's 10,000 RPM, 150 GB RD1500 Raptor.

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ManufacturerMaxtorQuantumIBMSeagateSeagateWestern Digital
Product7000 Series IDE 3524Fireball STDeskstar 16GPBarracuda IVBarracudaWD Raptor
Model Number7040AST3.2ADTTA-351010ST360021A7200.10WD1500ADFD
Capacity40 MB3.2 GB10.1 GB60 GB750 GB150 GB
Rotation Speed3524 RPM5400 RPM5400 RPM7200 RPM7200 RPM10,000 RPM
Other Capacities60 - 130 MB1.6, 2.1, 3.2, 4.3, 6.4 GB3.2, 4.3, 6.4, 8.4, 10.1, 12.9, 16.8 GB20, 40, 60, 80 GB500, 400, 320, 300, 250, 200 GB74, 36 GB
Platters32321 to 41 to 4
Capacity per Platter26 MB1.6 GB5.6 GB40 GB200 GB37.5 GB
Cache32 - 64 kB128 kB512 kB2 MB16 MB16 MB
Manufacturing Date19911996Jul-98200320062006

IDE Oldtimer: Maxtor 7040A, 40 MB (1991)

This is a 40 MB (yes, megabyte) hard drive with three platters rotating at 3,500 RPM, and a simple IDE interface. It is from 1991, and represents an average model from this period. The top model of Maxtor's 7000 Series offered 130 MB of capacity, distributed across eight platters. It had 32 or 64 kB integrated cache memory, depending on the model. You can still find the specifications on the Maxtor website if you dig for them!

The 130 MB capacity of the high-end model represented about the limit of what was available at that time, though capacity quickly increased to 170 MB and 240 MB a short while later. We found it particularly interesting that all of these drives cost several hundred dollars back then; you can easily get 1000x the capacity today at an even lower cost!

This drive is old enough that PCMark05 refuses to run its hard drive test suite on it, but we were able to run tests with c't magazine's h2benchw 3.6 hard drive benchmarking tool. The 7040A's average access time was roughly 27 ms, which looks almost like an eternity compared to today's 8-15 ms access times for 3.5" hard drives. The interface has a bandwidth of 800 kB/s (0.8 MB/s), versus the 80-200 MB/s that your hard drive's interface most likely can handle. The real transfer performance was actually very close to that number as well: h2benchw measured 600-700 kB/s, which is about the transfer rate of a quad-speed CD-ROM drive. Any storage device you can buy today outperforms the 1991 hard drive, of course.

  • There is a typo in the article:

    Quantum's Fireball was available about five years after the 40 GB Maxtor drive discussed above,

    It should be 40MB, obviously
  • badcat
    "And Samsung, finally, may have a decent advantage in the future with a possible hybrid hard drive; it is the only firm in this quartet that manufactures both magnetic and Flash storage." WRONG! This technology existed in enterprise level hard disks for some time now.
  • i am still looking a 40Mb hard disk for my machine in 386dx