Remember Floppy Disks?

By Jim Shimabukuro

The message on this tanktop is a reminder of how far we’ve come in a very “short” period of time. I got it as a gift this past Father’s Day and catch myself smiling whenever I wear it.

My first personal computer, in the early-1980s, was a Kaypro 2 that came with two single-sided, double-density 5.25″ floppy drives. For all practical purposes, we needed two drives back then: one for the program and the other for our files. Wikipedia photo by Autopilot, 19 Mar. 2015.

Each 5.25″ disk had a capacity of 180 KB. For a sense of proportion, a typical photo from an iPhone today is 1.9 MB or 1900 KB in size. My first major upgrade was to two double-sided, double-density 5.25″ floppy drives that boosted disk capacity to 360 KB. Wikipedia photo by Jud McCranie, 31 Dec. 2017.

About a year later, I stepped up to an IBM Portable PC (PPC) with two 5.25″ 360 KB floppy drives. Wikipedia photo by Hubert Berberich, 10 July 2010.

I upgraded one of the PPC’s 5.25″ drives to a 3.5″ drive with a capacity of 720 KB. Later, I upgraded the 720 to a 1.44 MB drive. Despite the increase in capacity, the 1.44 MB disk would still not be able to store a single iPhone photo.

In the mid-1980s, a huge step up for my PPC was a 20 MB hard-disk drive (HDD). Despite its “massive” capacity, it wouldn’t be able to store more than 10 iPhone photos. In contrast, today’s memory cards/sticks and hard drives can store hundreds and even thousands of iPhone-size photos. Wikipedia photo by steverenouk, 20 Aug. 2007.

Today, we usually measure card/stick capacity in gigabytes (billion bytes) and HDD capacity in terabytes (trillion bytes). SSDs (solid-state storage devices) are quickly replacing internal HDDs, with hard drives being relegated to external storage devices. We’ve come a long way in a little less than forty years, but, as The Carpenters sang in 1970, “We’ve only just begun,” and it’ll be exciting to see what’s in store for memory in the next forty years.

2 Responses

  1. Seriously, I remember 8″ floppy disks. I had a bunch of them, now long gone to the landfill. I worked in the computer industry before ANY floppy disks existed. Oh, we had removable disks and were careful not to drop them on our toes.

    It gets worse. I remember working with punched cards — myself! I even edited the binary cards returned to you after a compilation to save time. Woe betide the person who dropped their cards if they were not sequenced. If they were, then you had access to a card sorting machine. Old movies showed them as though THEY were the computer. Ha ha ha.

    No. That’s not the beginning. I worked with punched paper tape on a Flexowriter and (years later) a teletype. Yes, I edited those too by hand. My first program was about ten feet long.

    That first computer I worked on had vacuum tubes in it. And its output was on clay tablets that you baked in the sun. I say that because you wouldn’t believe the truth.

    I wrote FORTRAN for my Ph.D. thesis on an IBM 7094, the top computer of its day. It had a 32K memory that was the size of a wall full of filing cabinets. There’s a fun story about that memory bank. It was all magnetic CORES (where the term “core dump” originated) and was cooled with circulating oil. It kept having random bit errors. The entire story is too long for this note. The onsite IBM techs tore their hair out for weeks!

    Today, you have many more times (geez, GIGAbytes!!) of memory and computing power in your pocket. DO NOT TRAVEL BACK IN TIME WITH ONE OF THOSE IN YOUR POCKET! It will morph into a room-filling computer and crush you to death.

    It seems as though the computer industry is playing limbo. “How low can you go?” The prices go low while the size goes small. They will make it under that stick, and you are the winner as long as you aren’t buried under a software snow storm. I hope that I am not going too fast for everyone here.

    I was once paid $250,000 (not all for myself, had to hire help) to automate a steel mill. The project was a big success and was never installed. Who says that computer programmers lack a sense of humor? I laughed all the way to the bank.

    I have had a number of dental problems and now sport two implants. I hope that my next one is enough in the future to include a computer.


    • Harry, this is fabulous! Can we publish this as a full-blown article? I think readers would love reading this. -Jim

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