3. The Hard Drive
The floppy, CD-ROM, DVD, USB Flash Drive, and Memory Card are all extensions of hard drive technology. Without the hard drive, all these other technologies wouldn’t exist. The idea of a bit or a byte came from the necessity to transform information going into a hard drive into 0s and 1s that could later be loaded into the RAM and used by the processor.
The hard drive had humble beginnings. Like most computer tech, it was born out of the need for a means to store the information going into a processor in a medium that was both reliable and separate from the rest of the unit in case of problems or emergencies.
The hard drive technology used today isn’t much different from the technology used in the 80s during the heyday of the processor. The magnetic platter that is recorded using varying magnetic states and a spin head has mostly been refined, but with the exception of solid-state hard drives, the technology really hasn’t evolved much further than reliability and capacity.
The first hard drives could store megabytes, not gigabytes or terabytes. Eventually, in accordance with Moore’s Law, capacities started getting greater and greater. Today, we’ve hit a stagnant point. The advent of the 1 Tb hard drive was an exciting time, but today, a 1.5 Tb or even 2 Tb drive is more than enough for those that want to store exceptionally large files. The lack of demand for larger volumes has caused the hard drive industry to instead focus on solid-state technology that is much more reliable due to a lack of moving parts. Furthermore, the technology behind hard drives is being further refined to increase affordability. Today, in 2009, a 500 Gb hard drive is highly affordable, whereas 9 years ago, it would’ve cost you a fortune.
The hard drive takes our number three spot because it has managed to stay relatively the same over the years, and yet still stores our OS, our music, our movies, our games, our documents and anything else we can imagine inside it. Suffice it to say that if it wasn’t for the hard drive, today’s PCs wouldn’t exist.