When did computers start using hard drives?

Hard disk drives (HDDs) are one of the most important components in modern computers. They provide mass storage capabilities, allowing computers to store large amounts of data and programs. Without hard drives, computers would not have the storage space needed for modern operating systems, applications, and files.

But hard drives were not always a standard feature of computers. The history of the hard drive is closely tied to the evolution of computer technology and capabilities. When did computers first start using hard disk drives for storage? This article will explore the origins and early history of HDDs to answer that question.

The First Hard Disk Drives

The first hard disk drive for computers was the IBM 350 disk storage unit, released in 1956 as a part of the IBM 305 RAMAC (Random Access Method of Accounting and Control) system. The 350 disk storage unit contained 50 24-inch magnetic disks coated with iron oxide paint. These disks spun at 1200 RPM and each disk side stored 100 tracks with 40,000 six-bit characters per track, for a total formatted capacity of about 5 MB. This was a massive leap compared to previous magnetic tape drives which stored only a few megabytes in a much larger footprint.

The 350 disk storage unit was rented to customers for $3,200 per month (over $30,000 adjusted for inflation) which made its use limited to large organizations and government agencies. Despite the high cost, the 350’s random access capabilities represented a significant advancement in data storage and retrieval compared to sequential tape drives. IBM continued producing hard disk drive models throughout the 1950s and 60s, gradually increasing capacities while reducing physical size and cost.




HDDs in the 1960s

Hard drives in the 1960s were still very large in physical size and mostly used by businesses and organizations rather than average consumers. In 1962, IBM introduced the model 1311, which was about the size of a refrigerator and could store 2.6MB of data on a removable disk pack. A few years later in 1965, IBM released the model 1301 hard drive which offered substantially more capacity at 100MB with a data transfer rate of about 885,000 bytes per second 1. However, the 1301 was extremely large, weighing over a ton and standing over 5 feet tall. Drives like the 1301 were generally found only at major corporations, universities, and government agencies during this time period.

While hard drives were still uncommon for personal computers in the 1960s, they started to become more viable for business and organizational use, offering dramatically larger storage capacities compared to alternatives like magnetic tape. However, physical size and costs remained prohibitive for widespread consumer adoption. Hard drives would continue advancing in the coming decades with rapid increases in capacity and reductions in size and cost.

HDDs Become Standard in PCs

Hard drives started being included as standard internal components in personal computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of the first was the Seagate ST-506, a 5MB HDD launched in 1980 and used in the IBM Personal Computer XT in 1983. The XT was IBM’s first PC to include a hard drive by default. Other popular HDDs in early PCs included the IBM 33FD, introduced in 1979 with 8.5MB capacity, and the Western Digital WD1010, released in 1984 at 10MB.

These early HDDs began to make PCs more useful for businesses and serious users. Their capacities of between 5MB and 10MB allowed users to store programs and files locally on their computers, rather than having to use floppy disks for storage and retrieval. Having an internal HDD made the experience much more convenient compared to constantly swapping floppy disks.

By the late 1980s, HDDs with capacities between 20MB to 40MB had become standard in new PCs from IBM, Compaq, Apple and other major manufacturers. Their inclusion as a core component represented a major step up from floppy-based systems. It heralded the start of the era when hard drives would be seen as essential for general-purpose computing, both for consumers and businesses.

The Rise of Winchester Drives

In 1973, IBM introduced the IBM 3340, also known internally as “Winchester”, which sealed the hard disk platters and heads in a dust-free enclosure. This engineering breakthrough allowed the reading heads to get much closer to the disk surface without crashing, enabling higher storage densities [1]. The IBM 3340 had a formatted storage capacity of 35 MB.

The Winchester design became the predominant form of disk drive starting in the late 1970s and 1980s, displacing open platters as the standard drive design. Major manufacturers like Seagate and Western Digital transitioned to producing Winchester HDDs in volume [2]. Being completely sealed and protected from outside contaminants allowed Winchester drives to achieve much greater reliability and storage capacities.

By the early 1980s, Winchester drives became the standard storage technology used in personal computers, replacing earlier floppy and cassette tape drives. Their high capacity compared to other options made hard drives essential for storing operating systems, programs, and data.

Increasing Storage Capacities

In the 1980s, hard disk drive capacities were measured in megabytes. For example, the IBM 3380 introduced in 1980 could store up to 2.52GB. During this decade capacities steadily increased, with drives able to store up to 10s of megabytes becoming more common.

According to Wikipedia, “During the mid-1990s the typical hard disk drive for a PC had a capacity in the range of 500 megabyte to 1 gigabyte.”

New innovations in the 1980s and 1990s paved the way for these increasing capacities. Giant magnetoresistive (GMR) heads were introduced by IBM in 1990, allowing for higher storage densities. Also in 1990, commandeer Inc. introduced the first 2.5-inch hard drive. Having smaller form factors enabled fitting more platters and heads into a drive for increased capacity.

By the late 1990s, common hard drive capacities reached multiple gigabytes. For example, the IBM Deskstar 16GP “Titan” drive introduced in 1998 had a capacity of 16.8GB.

Overall, capacities grew from the megabytes range in the 1980s to commonly hitting gigabytes by the late 1990s. New innovations in hard drive technologies such as GMR heads and smaller 2.5-inch form factors enabled fitting more data onto smaller drives during this era.

The 2000s – Growing Diversity

In the 2000s, hard drives continued to diversify and evolve. As laptop computers became more popular, smaller 2.5-inch hard disk drives were developed to fit their compact size. The first 2.5-inch HDD was introduced by IBM in 2000 with a capacity of 6.48GB [1]. These smaller drives allowed people to have substantial storage while maintaining portability.

During this decade, new technologies began emerging as alternatives to traditional magnetic hard drives. In 2005, Toshiba and SanDisk announced a new type of storage called NAND flash memory [2]. This technology stored data in semiconductor cells rather than on spinning platters. It enabled solid-state drives (SSDs) that provided faster access speeds, better durability, and lower power consumption. Though initially more expensive than HDDs, SSD prices started dropping over the 2000s, allowing them to gain traction in some markets.

So in summary, the 2000s saw hard drives continue diversifying with smaller form factors for laptops and early SSD technology starting to emerge to challenge traditional magnetic storage.

The Present and Future

Modern high-capacity hard disk drives now commonly offer between 10-16TB of storage space in a 3.5-inch form factor, with even higher capacities up to 20TB available. This increase in storage density has been enabled by innovations like shingled magnetic recording (SMR), which layers magnetic tracks partially over each other, and helium-filled drives. According to a technology roadmap, capacities of up to 100TB may be possible by 2025.

An emerging HDD technology called HAMR (heat-assisted magnetic recording) uses laser thermal assistance to temporarily heat an area on the disk platter to increase its ability to magnetically record data. HAMR allows for greater storage densities and capacities. Manufacturers like Seagate and Western Digital plan to introduce HAMR drives commercially in the next few years.

Other innovations that may further push hard drive capacities include bit patterned media, where magnetic islands are pre-formed on the disk platter, and microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR) which uses microwaves to heat media. Continued advances in HDD technology along with the growing world’s data storage needs suggest there is still an important role for hard drives well into the future.


Hard disk drives, HDDs for short, have transformed computer storage in the decades since their first use. The earliest hard drives were created in the 1950s, but were only available in supercomputers until the 70s. In the 60s and 70s, HDDs became standard in mainframes and minicomputers, providing more storage and faster access than magnetic tape and floppy disks. As personal computers rose to prominence in the 80s and 90s, hard drives became common as essential internal components. Their capacity has increased dramatically over the decades, from just a few megabytes in the late 70s to multiple terabytes today. While solid state drives and cloud storage are now viable newer technologies, HDDs remain the dominant form of high capacity computer storage today, storing the OS, applications, and user files.

When Did Computers Start Using Hard Drives?

Hard disk drives revolutionized computer storage. Let’s explore the origins and evolution of HDD technology.


List sources referenced or used for research/quotes. Use proper citation styles.

[1] Author, A. (Year). Title of book. City: Publisher.

[2] Author, B. (Year). Title of journal article. Title of Journal, volume number(issue number), page range.

[3] Author, C. (Year, Month Day). Title of web page. Retrieved from https://www.example.com

[4] Screen name. (Year, Month Day). Title of video [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.example.com

[5] Author, D. (Year, Month Day). Title of webpage. Title of Website. https://www.example.com