Hard Disk Basics

Hard disks were invented in the 1950s. They started as large disks up to 20 inches in diameter holding just a few megabytes. They were originally called "fixed disks" or "Winchesters" (a code name used for a popular IBM product). They later became known as "hard disks" to distinguish them from "floppy disks." Hard disks have a hard platter that holds the magnetic medium, as opposed to the flexible plastic film found in tapes and floppies.

At the simplest level, a hard disk is not that different from a cassette tape. Both hard disks and cassette tapes use the same magnetic recording techniques described in How Tape Recorders Work. Hard disks and cassette tapes also share the major benefits of magnetic storage -- the magnetic medium can be easily erased and rewritten, and it will "remember" the magnetic flux patterns stored onto the medium for many years.

In the next section, we'll talk about the main differences between casette tapes and hard disks.