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How big was the global hard drive market in 1974?

hard drive

Today, just about all computers have hard drives. In fact, in the last quarter of 2011, global hard drive shipments reached approximately 125 million units. But what was the situation like back in the 1970s? Personal computers were (almost) unheard of, and computers were typically large as rooms and run by guys in white lab coats.

Aren’t you curious to find out just how big the global market for hard drives was back then? Let’s find out.

5 MB used to be a lot

We’ve covered the history of hard drives before here on the Royal Pingdom blog, and brought to you some spectacular images of how the technology has developed.

To give you a sense of what the early hard drives looked like we present you with the IBM RAMAC. The RAMAC 305 (Random Access Memory Accounting System) by IBM had a component called the IBM 350 Disk Storage, which was an ancestor to the hard drive as we know it today. It was a huge stack of metal platters that could store up to 5,000,000 characters (that’s roughly 5 MB!), which was equal to 64,000 punch cards.

RAMAC Engineering Prototype, IBM San Jose, 1956

Picture from the RAMAC Restoration Web Site.

If you’re interested, check out the manual of operations for the IBM 305 from 1957.

The hard drive market in the 1970s

Let’s dig into the numbers for the global hard drive market in the 1970s. We’ve looked at “Walther’s Disk Data Book” from August 1976, published by the Lee Walther and Company, Cupertino, California. It details both market share for the leading suppliers of “non-removable media disk drives” as well as the quantity of shipped drives worldwide. First, we look at drives with a storage capacity less than 200 MB.

Market share (storage capacity less than 200 MB)
1975 1976
 Manufacturer Quantity % Quantity %
Caelus (EM&M) 1,000 11.1 1,000 6.7
CDC 0 0 200 1.3
Diablo 1,000 11.1 1,000 6.7
IBM 6,000 66.7 10,000 66.7
Microdata 0 0 200 1.3
Pertec 500 5.5 1,600 10.7
Wangco (Perkin-Elmer) 500 5.5 1,000 6.7

As you can see IBM was in the clear lead with almost 67% of the market. But what did that mean in absolute number of units?

Worldwide market (storage capacity less than 200 MB)
1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981
Installed 700 9,700 24,500 60,000 110,000 170,000 245,000 330,000
Shipped 530 9,000 15,000 36,000 50,000 65,000 78,000 90,000

In this table, “installed” means how many units were installed as of the end of the respective year. “Shipped” means cumulative shipments during the respective year.

IBM dominated the market for smaller capacity drives, but for drives larger than 200 MB, Control Data Corp. had the lead with almost 56% of the market in 1975.

Market share (storage capacity bigger than 200 MB)
1975 1976
 Manufacturer Quantity % Quantity %
Ampex 200 4,0
Calcomp 300 6.0
Control Data Corp. 70 56.0 930 18.6
Honeywell 25 20.0 20 0.4
IBM 3,000 60.0
Storage Technology 10 8.0 500 10.0
Univac/ISS 20 16.0 50 1.0

However, the global market for these larger drives was pretty tiny in the middle of the 70s, as you can see below.

Worldwide market (storage capacity bigger than 200 MB)
1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981
Installed 10 135 5,135 15,135 28,500 43,000 58,000 75,000
Shipped 10 125 5,000 10,000 13,500 15,000 16,000 18,000

If you add up the numbers, in 1974, the global market for hard drives was 710 units installed and 540 units shipped.

How much did a hard drive cost in those days? The IBM RAMAC system we mentioned above could be rented for $3,200 per month. That’s about $26,000 today, adjusted for inflation. That was of course the whole system, not just the storage component, but it gives us an indication of what a drive would have cost.

SSD next

Today, the development to watch is perhaps not so much to just look at the hard drive market but to look at it in relation to the solid state drive (SSD) market. SSD prices have come down dramatically in recent years but the hard drives still keep the edge in terms of price per gigabyte.

Image (top) via Shutterstock.

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