Last spring, my good friend Andrew Binstock and I agreed upon a simple wager: Would we be able to purchase a terabyte hard drive, in a 3.5-inch form factor, by the end of 2006? At that time, 500GB drives were readily available at places like Best Buy and CompUSA. I believe that the 750GB drives were just coming out as well.
Forget Moore’s Law: The pace of innovation in hard drives is incredible. As I write this, there still aren’t 1TB drives commercially available, but the price of 500GB and 750GB 3.5-inch drives is falling fast. You can also get a 160GB laptop drive (in a 2.5-inch form factor) for under $200, which is equally amazing.
Twenty years ago I’d not have predicted this… the future belonged to optical media, remember. When the CD-ROM was introduced in the mid-1980s, a typical hard drive had somewhere around 30MB of storage capacity. An ISO-9660 CD-ROM, by contrast, had 650MB capacity, or about 20x that of the hard disk.
Imagine if 12cm compact disc technology had kept pace with magnetic media: we’d have 15TB discs! But optical didn’t keep up, and capacity has grown very slowly. The first move, in the mid-1990s, was to the 4.7GB DVD, and then the 8.5GB dual-layer DVD. Now, finally, there are 20-50GB optical discs in the Blu-Ray spec coming out in lte 2006.
Given the pace of change, the future clearly belongs to magnetic hard disks.