Consider the tiny hard-disk drive in your portable music player--not bad for a technology that's about to turn forty. The Magnetic Disk Heritage Center and the IEEE Santa Clara Valley Section agrees, and they're saluting the technology with a look back at its roots. On May 26, the groups will honor IBM's RAMAC 305 with an IEEE Milestone award.
IBM introduced the RAMAC (Random Access Memory Accounting System) 305 in 1956 (Fig. 1). Its IBM 350 Disk File was the world's first magnetic disk drive, which comprised 50 magnetic, 24-in. metal disks that together could store up to 5 million 7-bit characters (Fig. 2). Today, that would total about 4.4 Mbytes. (For a look at what today's discs can do, see "Density Breakthrough Makes Hard Drives More Suitable For Consumer Applications," below.)
The RAMAC 305 provided continuous, or "in-line," accounting for all types of businesses. Customers could lease the system for $3200 a month, or $35,000 per year. IBM produced more than 1000 of these systems before shutting down production in 1961. In 1969, IBM withdrew the system entirely. Yet the technolgy had taken hold, replacing magnetic drums for computer storage as well as leading to the Instant Replay Deck, which permitted the storage and playback of brief segments of analog video.
While the celebration will take place at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in San Jose, the organizations will install the Milestone plaque at 99 Notre Dame St., where the RAMAC was created. IBM opened the research facility in 1952 under the leadership of Rey Johnson, who holds more than 90 patents and received the National Medal of Honor from President Reagan for his contributions to magnetic disc storage.
Several luminaries will be on hand to salute the RAMAC 305. Albert Hoagland of the Magnetic Disk Heritage Center and Santa Clara University will provide an introduction and overview of the evening as well as the closing remarks. W. Cleon Anderson, president of the IEEE, will discuss the Milestones Program and unveil the plaque. And, Emerson W. Pugh of the IEEE Foundation will add some historical perspective.
Conducted by the IEEE History Committee, the IEEE Milestones Program honors significant achievements in the history of electrical and electronics engineering. Achievements must be at least 25 years old. They also must involve a unique solution to an engineering problem. And, they must have had at least a regional impact. The creation of the world's first hard-disk drive certainly qualifies.