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Since the beginning of computing there has been an epic struggle to make programs execute faster by speeding up the transfer of data between the processor and secondary memory. In 1965, to much fanfare, IBM introduced the 2314 hard disk subsystem.


Each of the eight drives, could, with diligence, store 29 million characters. Average access time was 60 milliseconds, the transfer rate to main memory was 310 kilobits per second, the subsystem as shown weighed 2.2 tons, needed 9.1 kilovolt amps, cost about $4000 per month to rent ($3 million in 2017 dollars) or $175,000 to buy ($135 million in 2017 dollars).


Today, one hard disk drive with 4,000 times the capacity will weigh 14 ounces, move data at 6 gigabits per second (20,000 times faster), access the data 120 times faster, consume 5 watts, and cost $50. For many modern users, that is still not fast enough, so for another $50 or so hybrid drives featuring associated solid state memory are used.

Back in 1965 the OS/360 operating system itself took about 4 megabytes of storage. Today, Windows 10 is about five thousand times larger, so the time needed to load the operating system into memory before an application can execute has remained an annoyance for users. One modern solution has been to load Windows itself from a solid state drive. This functionality has been expanded to include other programs, typically antivirus software and applications of the user’s choosing. ‘Greed for speed‘ and ‘rapacity for capacity‘ come at a price – usually, large solid state drives are limited in size and quite a bit more costly than traditional (Winchester) hard disk drives.

Back in 1965, IBM could say four times the storage at twice the speed and half the price, so a nominal improvement of 16 times. Today, things are a bit more complicated.

Devices using the new Intel ® Optane technology are going to dramatically change that.