Of Data, Drives, and the Winchester Model 1894

One of my stories that I would like to work on again, but was lost in a computer upgrade, had a cyberpunk plot about a character that dealt in stolen data. The MacGuffin of the story was a data brick the size of a bar of soap. In my story, this solid state storage device held 100 terabytes of data. It was thought that it was the financial modeling system of a large corporation but it turned out to have the stored memories of a dead scientist. I know, it’s not real original, but in 1992 it was the latest thing. I have been trying ever since to write the not-just-another-cyberpunk story that uses shared man-computer memories, but I don’t think it can be done. (Or it has been done too many times).

I felt at the time that monolithic memory was going to replace disk drives. Hard disk drives are mechanical devices of wheels and springs and levers. They are Victorian devices, like fine watches. The reason that they break (although disk drives are incredibly tough) is that the mechanical parts wear out or are damaged due to dropping or the motor burns out. These are all failures of the moving parts. Solid State memory has no moving parts.

Samsung announced today that they have been taking the flash memory technology, the same technology commonly used in USB drives and the memory cards used in cameras, and they have made tiny non-disk drives that are three times faster than the disk drives currently use in computers. These solid state drives will be smaller, cheaper, cooler, use less electricity, and more reliable than the mechanical variety.

It is probably possible right now to store 100 terabytes in a package the size of a bar of soap. My story from 15 years ago is already out of date. When I wrote it, a one gig disk was big. At the time that I wrote the story, I was programming a device the size of a refrigerator that held 12 inch optical disk platters with a mechanical arm to swap them and it had a total capacity of 600 megs. That $200,000 disk juke box is the equivalent of $100 in disks at todays prices.

All disk drives are descendants of the IBM Winchester drives. They had multiple brown magnetic platters with a mechanical arm that moved a read/write head over them. It was like tape drive but instead of the tape moving, the arm could jump to read the magnetic tape-like coating on the platter.

The IBM disk drive was called a Winchester because it was designated model 3030. 30-30 is also the name of the kind of ammunition used in the Winchester model 1894 rifle. I always thought that calling the 3030 disk drive a winchester was cool. I used to work with these big clunky winchester drives. I wrote a program in IBM 370 Assembly Language (BAL) that would move the heads to one side of the drive and then then out to the other side. I tried to time them to move back and forth and rock the drive so that it would fall over. (I used to work late nights in the computer room and payroll programs used to take hours to run so I kept myself busy).

Samsung Announces 64 GB Solid State Drive