200 GB in 1986?! Inconceivable!
February 1, 2012 12:39 AM Subscribe
How common were 200GB hard drives in the mid-1980s? Would institutions like the USGS have had access to them? Would general readers even have understood the term?
posted by col_pogo to Computers & Internet (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I was struck by a seeming anachronism when reading John McPhee's brilliant frontier history/Wyoming geology book Rising from the plains (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux 1986, first paperback reprint 1991). On p136 McPhee describes his main interlocutor, David Love, as "the quintessential field geologist [...], the geologist who carries his two-hundred-gigabyte hard disk between his ears."
Initially I found this very strange. Based on my knowledge of tech history, I would have thought 200 GB hard drives would seem positively science fictional to most readers in 1986 (or earlier, when most of this text appeared in the New Yorker). Or that they wouldn't even know the term "gigabyte." Now, Wikipedia tells me that 1GB hard drives were actually available in 1980—in 550lb refrigerator form at a cost of $40,000—but that still makes it seem like 200 GB would have seemed impossible, like writing "10 million terabytes" today.
So is it feasible that the US Geological Survey would have had 200 GB drives in the early-to-mid 1980s? And that general readers would understand the reference? Was McPhee actually trying for what would sounded like an outrageous number? I'd like to understand this choice of imagery in the context that readers would have had at the time.