1988 vs. 2008: A Tech Retrospective

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Hard Drives

The 150MB Core HC150.
1988: 150MB Core HC150

  • Price: $4995 ($8755 adjusted for inflation)
  • Cost per MB: $33 ($58 adjusted)
  • Seek time: 17ms
  • Controller: ESDI ($495)
  • Data Transfer rate: 1.25 mbps
  • Heads/Disks: 9/5
  • Expected life: 50,000 hours

The 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11.
2008: 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11

  • Price: $363
  • Cost per MB: $0.000363
  • Seek time: 9ms
  • Controller: SATA 3Gbps
  • Data Transfer rate: 300 mbps
  • Heads/Disks: 8/4
  • Expected life: 750,000 hours

Hey, want to buy a 1-terabyte hard drive for $58 million? We thought not. But based on per-megabyte prices in 1988, that's how much a 1TB drive would have cost in 2008 dollars.

By contrast, today's top-of-the-line 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 is one of the fastest drives around and dirt-cheap at just $363.  Back in 1988, of course, we didn't have scads of 10-megapixel photos and high-definition video cluttering up our drives, much less entire music libraries. (You can fit about 2500 CDs on a 1TB drive in lossless format, and far more as compressed MP3 files.)

Hard drives perfectly exemplify the law that content expands to occupy available space. In the future, we'll probably continue to fill up every yottabyte and gibibyte that the storage gods bestow on us, even if we have to get a PhD in units of measure to comprehend the volume of space available to us.

But the true game-changer in storage is no longer capacity; it's size. Ever-tinier flash drives provide the data needed for powerful handheld devices, from cameras and smart phones to media players.

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