III A Brief History of Hard Drives
(Page 2 of 3)
The next generation of storage was "magnetic tape". You have probably seen pictures of computers with large reels of tape. These tapes recorded information in a similar way to an audiotape. These tapes were flexible, more reliable and faster then the old punch cards. In fact, some government agencies still transfer data via these old 9-track tapes. (If you cannot picture one of these devices, theyre a popular 'high-tech prop in the original James Bond action/adventure movies).
Tape is still used today on computers, though mostly for backup purposes. These were the main source of storage for computers before hard drives came along. The main challenge with magnetic tape is that they must be read linearly, from beginning to end, and it can take several minutes to access the data you are looking for making random access a Herculean effort on this type of media.
With all this innovation coming into the mainframe (sometimes nicknamed Big Iron) it wasn't long before this trickled down to the mini computer (review the role of the mini computer from Digital in Chapter 0001), and in to the PC arena.
The first PCs were, by today's standards very slow and could not accomplish much. With the introduction of the PC, technology began to advance at a very fast pace. The Altair was programmed using eight toggle switches. Later, the idea of using an audiocassette tape to retain the programming was devised.
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