Storage and Scale

As everyone knows, things change quickly in the technology industry. Storage and processor speed in particular have grown enormously over the years.

My first computer had a 2-MHz eight-bit processor (the Z80) and an amazing 48K of memory. I’m writing this post on a machine with eight 3-GHz processors with 9G of memory. When adjusted for inflation, I think both machines cost about the same amount.

It’s the growth in mass storage, though, that amazes me most.

When my family was starting up The Parent Institute, the business ran on a few computers in my parents’ home. Around 1991, we decided that we needed a very large hard disk to store publications and the customer database. So I bought a 1.6-gigabyte hard drive. This was a full-height 5.25-inch device that probably weighed at least ten pounds. It cost about $3,600 and connected to an expensive SCSI controller (the venerable Adaptec 1542, which was about $400 if memory serves me correctly). MS-DOS could only address the first gigabyte of the drive, so we had a fair bit of excess capacity for the first few years. While expensive, $4,000 for even a gigabyte of storage on a single device was quite good in 1991.

Fast-forward to the present. I was standing in the checkout line at Micro Center a couple of weeks ago when I noticed that 2-gigabyte SD cards (which are the size of postage stamps) were stacked up as impulse-buy items like candy at a grocery store. The price? $6. That’s something like a thousand-fold decrease in price, after adjusting for inflation.

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