Moore and Me

On January 6, 2009, in Computers, by psu

One of the many ways in which I’ve had a lucky life is that I grew up with Moore’s law. I became aware of computing hardware just about the time the integrated circuit came on the scene. From high school to college to graduate school and into my work life I have for the most part ridden the curve that the hardware people have so generously provided for those of us who work in software.

Every once in a while when I am feeling nostalgic I think back on what all of this means, and the power of the exponential function never fails to amaze. But what amazes me even more than how chips have scaled is how storage has scaled, especially since storage usually involves moving parts. Advances in disk storage have probably been more responsible than anything else for expanding the ways in which we use the machines, especially for media applications.

So here are a few random comparisons:

1. When I started at CMU as a freshman in 1983 (it might have actually been 1985), 1GB of disk space took up eight racks in a machine room. Twenty five years later, 16GB of disk fits on a keychain. This can store enough video to keep someone busy for a ten hour car ride. That’s around 10 to 15 full DVD movies if you don’t need to store anything else.

2. Back in one of my early jobs in the mid 90s, we studied a book called Managing Gigabyes, as if a gigabyte was a huge amount of storage. These days, when I pack for a trip, I put more than a terabyte of storage into my backpack to hold pictures, music, video and so on. For the record, here is the list: 320GB disk in laptop, 320GB external USB drive for backup, 500GB external USB drive for backup #2, point and shoot camera with 8GB flash card, digital SLR with 8GB of flash, 8GB of storage on iPhone. Total storage: 1164GB.

3. Twenty years ago you’d have to carry around ten or twenty pounds of bulky video equipment to record an hour of crappy home video on tape. And then you had do deal with the tape. Now you shoot that same video with an HD video camera that fits in your pocket and when you are done it will upload the movie to Youtube for you.

Storage has gotten so ubiquitous and so large that we barely think about it anymore. We take it for granted that we can walk around with 100GB of data in our pants. A few more generations and a laptop will have enough disk to allow you to store your entire life without ever deleting anything. Well, maybe not if you record every waking second in HD video, but close.

People have said for a long time that this ride was going to end soon, and although we are starting to see some of this with respect to CPU clock speeds, storage doesn’t seem to be slowing down. I wonder what I’ll be able to store on a keychain in ten years. Maybe the whole web, and the google index to go with it.


6 Responses to “Moore and Me”

  1. Eeyore says:

    You put the laptop and both backup disks in the same bag?

  2. psu says:

    This particular trip I was not likely to get separated from the bag. I’d probably handle it differently for a plane ride.

    I also have redundant backups at home anyway, except for the pictures I actually shoot on the trip itself.

  3. qubodup says:

    Well, you said it “Well, maybe not if you record every waking second in HD video, but close.”

    Required space grows with available HD size. In the next few years, lossless music formats will be made popular (how else are they supposed to sell their 1TB portable players?), HD2 will come and of course as always: bigger photo resolutions.

  4. Chris C. says:

    I bought some storage this weekend. I got 8GB of MicroSDHC for $30 at Fry’s (8GB in a chip of plastic smaller than the fingernail on my little finger!). I got 4GB of RAM for $20!

    So I think your “16GB on a keychain” is a bit out of date — you can now get 16GB of storage cheaply in a form factor which you could easily shove up your nose… (if you chose to do so)

  5. bhudson says:

    I’m not sure I want to think about snorting 16 GB.

    I was struck a while ago that you could get useful amounts of storage in the checkout lane at the supermarket, between the sex advice magazines and the candy (tens of megabytes then, gigabytes now).

  6. Drowlord says:

    I went to colorado to visit my parents for Christmas. I bought a $129 internal 1.5 TB SATA drive and an external USB case for $19.95. I read that 2.5 TB drives are supposed to be out this year. I plan to upgrade my RAID array when the 2 TB disks come out — I’m expecting to spend $800 or so to get 10 TB of redundant storage — which includes the Highpoint RAID controller for my media server.

    XviD encoded AVI appear to be the most popular format online. Files are usually ~700 MB for a movie, ~350 MB for a one-hour show, and ~170 MB for a half-hour sitcom or cartoon. After getting married and having kids, I realized that maintaining a DVD collection is a waste of time. discs are constantly put back in the wrong case (if at all), and stuffed in cabinets or left on tables rather than being put back in alphabetical order in my bookshelves — I have thousands of DVDs. A permanently organized, disc-less media setup became my holy grail.