Random Access Memories

Early morning e-mails set me to thinking about personal milestones in digital storage.
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Early morning e-mails set me to thinking about personal milestones in digital storage.

In this morning’s In-Box:

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  • — 1 TB Hard drive: $59. (On sale, no rebate required).
  • — Your mailbox is almost full. (2 GB of corporate server space near topped out)

While my computer crunches away purging 6,300 older e-mails (about 45 days worth from earlier in the year), these early morning e-mails set me to thinking about personal milestones in digital storage.

My first computer was a Commodore 64. My first storage for the Commodore was a cassette tape drive, later to be usurped by that modern marvel, the 5 1/4-inch floppy disk drive with 170 kB (!) of storage. Floppies were the everyman’s storage for some time to come — the first computer available at the radio station where I then worked was an Apple II with dual floppies — one to house programs and the other for our data. When I left the station in the late ’80s, the staff was still sharing a single computer, though by that time it had grown up to be an MS-DOS machine with a whopping 20 MB of storage.

My first personal computer with a hard drive was a similar 8088 processorbased DOS machine, also with a 20 MB hard drive (I could now fill that entire drive with four photos from my digital camera, but only if I don’t save them as raw images but simply as the highest-resolution jpeg lossy compressed files the camera can generate).

When I first began working at Masterfonics Studios, our order management and accounting computer was an already old Data General beast in a six-foot rack accessed by dumb terminals. It featured removable hard drives — 10 MB in capacity and near the size of today’s emergency spare tires. We began working with computer-based digital audio (does anyone else remember Turtle Beach?) evolving to early SADiE systems. I still vividly remember the boss’ excitement when he acquired his first drive big enough to house an entire CD project on a single drive (800 MB at a cost of around $1,200.). Similar excitement ensued when a major price barrier was breached — drives could be had for a remarkable $1 a Megabyte.

The pace of hard-drive storage development has grown exponentially since that time, with drive capacities blossoming to the point where a Terabyte of storage on a single drive is commonplace, at costs now less than 10 cents a GB. The current computer-based audio production environment has been fueled by these changes to a degree that few would have even imagined just a few short years ago. A post-production-oriented cover story in this month’s Pro Sound News discusses the entertainment industry’s use of digital storage now and in the future in terms of hundreds of Petabytes (each a thousand Terabytes) and even Hexabytes (a thousand thousand Terabytes).

And here I am happy to have reduced my corporate server footprint by 440 MB by deleting a passel of old e-mails. That would fit a couple of thousand times over in what’s now a $59 drive. Viva la revolution!