hard drive history

2000: sea change

Photo by kind permission of Western Digital.

Western Caviar WD800BB Family

This drive was the darling of high-performance hard drive fans but a rather slow mover in this part of the world. Though it was released about mid-year in 2001, we sold a bare handful of them. Until early in the new year, 60GB and 80GB drives were very expensive, too expensive for most people. Five years or so earlier there were people who would shell out for the largest available sizes but with the current "small" drives weighing in at 20 or 30GB, hardly anyone needed more, and most of the few who did bought a pair of 40GB drives instead, as this was cheaper.

The performance advantage of the 800BB was real but not enormous. The reality was, buyers were smart enough to take the money they saved on the hard drive and put it into RAM (which was going through its most spectacular low-price phase yet), or take advantage of the AMD Intel price war to pick up an XP or Thunderbird, or slip in a faster video card. It wasn't until the 60GB Caviar suddenly dropped to about $60 more than the 40GB version that it became a practical proposition, and even then the takeup was quite slow.

If we could pass one single message onto the hard drive manufacturers of the world, it would be this. In hard drives, size no longer sells. People have enough size already. Give us retailers a faster drive — significantly faster, none of this three percent at a time stuff — and we will sell them by the boxload. Until then, we retailers will keep on selling high-margin products alongside the bread and butter things, and the high-margin products we sell will all be CPUs and video cards. So long as the hard drive makers of the world are too timid to sink some development capital into a truly innovative high-speed drive for the mass market, IDE drives will remain a commodity product, and commodity markets mean low profits for the manufacturers. The technology has been available for years and is routine in SCSI drives. Until a drive manufacturer shows some courage, they won't show too much by way of profit either.

Performance1.51Reliabilityno data
Data rate525 Mbit/secSpin rate7200 RPM
Seek time8.9msBuffer2MB
Platter capacity27GBInterfaceATA-100
WD600BB60GB5 GMR heads*
WD800BB80GB6 GMR heads*