hard drive history

barriers: stuck at 528MB

Micropolis 2217

Photo: Red Hill

Micropolis 2217

Back in late 1993 or early 1994 when I bought one of these extraordinary drives for our own busy office, it was state of the art, just about as fast as a hard drive could go.

The biggest IDE drive on the market at that time was just 545MB (528MB usable), and there was no immediate prospect of an improvement. The massive 1.7GB Micropolis 2217 cost almost $2000 (about as much as a Seagate Cheetah did in '97 or a pair of X15-36LPs in 2002). It gave excellent service for a good long while but by the time mainstream drives had reached into the 2 and 3GB range around 1997 it was showing its age. Almost any cheap new IDE drive would out-perform it by then.

When you look at the long-term cost-benefit, for the first year we had a much bigger and faster drive than was possible any other way, for the second year we had much the same performance as we'd have got from the best IDE drives, by the third year, we could have replaced it with a faster and cheaper IDE drive at a fraction of the cost. In fact, that's exactly what we did. We used it for archival storage for a few years longer, on a task where reliability was more important than speed.

But reliability wasn't Micropolis' strong point by this time. The company had once earned an enviable reputation for quality, but by the time of the 2217 Micropolis was struggling financially and quality was dropping off. We had damaged our 2217 (our fault — not theirs) when it was about two years old and to our delight they replaced the drive for us. Alas, the replacement drive was nowhere near as good as the original had been, and it decayed rapidly. By the time we thought to get it replaced again, Micropolis had gone bankrupt.

The next time I spent a four figure sum on a hard drive, I would do what I should have done in the first place: go to the best SCSI maker of them all, Seagate.

Data rate46.5 Mbit/secSpin rate5400 RPM
Seek time10msBuffer512k
Platter capacity240MBInterfaceFast SCSI 2
Actuatorvoice coilForm3½" 1/2 height>
22171.765GB15 thin-film heads*

(As an aside, Micropolis also made a peculiar IDE version of the 2217. Yes, IDE! It was just as expensive as the SCSI one but you didn't have to shell out the extra $800 for a SCSI host adaptor. The problem, however, was that there was no way to use the whole 1.7GB without loading a software device driver (which they supplied) and opening yourself up to a whole raft of reliability issues and compatibility gotchas. It would have been somewhat slower too. Given the very high cost of the drive, it's hard to imagine that anyone thought it was worth saving a few hundred dollars on a controller card in exchange for the very significant increase in risk of catastrophic data loss.)