A Pictorial Mini-Feature by Patrick Avenell
Invented in the early 1700s, punch cards have been used to store music, cast votes, collect census data and create stock inventories. This is the IMB Port-A-Punch, introduced in 1958. When it came out, it was revolutionary, and was the prototype for the controversial election machines used to 'decide' the 2000 US Presidential Election.
First used to record sound in 1928, magnetic tape graduated to data in 1951 and video in 1958. By the 1980s cassette tapes were the height of music quality, and its compact form led to the development of the Walkman. The rewritable nature of magnetic tape means that cassettes haven’t been made totally obsolete — some retailers still rate them a good seller.
Launched to the consumer market in the 1970s, the original floppy disc not only heralded a new era in personal computer data management, it actually was floppy. The very first model had a capacity of just under 80 kilobytes, but by the 1980s it was marketed as a relative roomy 1.2 megabytes. Advances in capacity, and a more reliable form factor relegated this otherwise dynamic disc to an antique in just over a decade.
No longer floppy, and known comically in some places by a risqué word, the 3.5-inch floppy was a staple of consumer and business use from its introduction 1987 until it became obsolete when recordable CD drives became standard. Capacities reached 200 megabytes by the end of the 1990s, and you can still use them today, as long as you have a USB-enabled 3.5-inch floppy drive.
The marquee product of the digital age, the compact disc, which was originally intended for music use only, was first marketed in 1982. Just three years later, Dire Straits would sell a million copies of Brothers in Arms on CD. Also in 1985, the first CD-ROM was released. At over 700 megabytes, the CD was an incredible advance in storage capacity, and when CD burners became available to the public, we had our first portable, reliable and writable memory solution at a capacity suitable for a new era. Out of deference to the CD, this feature is going to skip the MiniDisc altogether.
Called a ThumbDrive when first sold in 2000, the USB drive has had a fast and furious life. Considering that 256-gigabyte models are now the norm, it’s amazing to think that first model was a puny 8 megabytes. The magic behind these wonderfully useful tools is Flash memory, which allows storage without any spinning discs or moving parts. Aside from ticking every box when it comes to memory storage, the USB drive has usurped the umbrella as the corporate world’s favourite branded knickknack.
SD, SDHC and MicroSD
Originally shown off at CES in 2000, the Secure Digital card, and its successors, the Secure Digital High Capacity card and MicroSD card, are now the standards in the portable device memory market. Utilising Flash memory, SD cards allow for a high quantity of data to be stored on cameras, mobile phones and gaming consoles. Ease of use is a plus, and capacities are high, but the confusion over which products accept which cards originally caused frustration amongst users. Sony with its Memory Stick was particuarly at fault here.
They can store 50 gigabytes of data, play movies in high definition, record hours of TV footage and they have won a war, but still few people are convinced of their worth. With more and more people preferring to rent digital copies, stream video content or just illegally download what they want to watch, Blu-ray may not live to truly realise its potential.