I got to experience the march of storage technology today

January 7, 2021

Today, I noticed something when I was in the office and mentioned it on Twitter:

I was going to ask why I have a Micropolis 4743NS hard drive sitting around on my desk at work, but then I did a Google search on the model number and uh I think I may have answered my own question: IndyDown

(It was actually on a side table, but you know how it goes with tweets.)

The Micropolis 4743NS is a 4.3 GB 'narrow' 50-pin SCSI 3.5" hard drive from the mid to late 1990s (with a spindle speed of somewhere around 5400 RPM or so based on Internet searches (definitely not 7200 RPM)). The particular one from my office likely came from my SGI Indy that ran from 1996 through 2006, although I don't think the Indy started out with the Micropolis.

Another perfectly ordinary storage related thing I did today (which I didn't say anything about on Twitter) was that I grabbed and used a 16 GB USB 3.0 flash drive for the OpenBSD 6.8 installer image, because I needed one to install a couple of new machines and I didn't feel like burning a DVD (and we're running short on blank DVDs). The USB flash drive is a remarkably small thing, so small that I actually had some trouble fitting a label on it. Using a 16 GB flash drive for this purpose is massive overkill; the 6.8 USB install image is only 493 MB. But we didn't have any smaller flash drives sitting around that I trusted.

(We label all USB flash drives with what's on them for obvious reasons. Label tape and label makers are great things and every workplace should have a decent one.)

The USB flash drive is roughly four times the capacity of the Micropolis HD and much faster (both in the underlying flash storage and in USB 3.0). It also costs peanuts, so much so that the minimum size in this model has now moved up to 32 GB. I don't know what the Micropolis HD cost around 1997 or so when we likely bought it, but it definitely wouldn't have been small.

On the other hand, the USB flash drive would probably not last somewhere around a decade of 24/7 usage with no failures or bad sectors (although not with a high activity level; this was a workstation's HD). An actual SSD would probably do better, but I don't know if it would manage nearly a decade (although I can certainly hope).

(One reason I grabbed a 16 GB USB flash drive is that it's one of our more recent ones, and I have a reflex of not really trusting USB flash drives once they're clearly non-current. I could have tried a much older 4 GB USB 2.0 flash drive, but I didn't feel like taking the chance.)

Although narrow SCSI had a good run as a physical interface, it was already relatively obsolete by 2006. I might be able to find some way to connect the Micropolis up to my desktop and spin it up to see if it's readable, but it likely wouldn't be easy (if I have a PC SCSI card saved somewhere, it's certainly not PCIe). The USB flash drive is USB-A, which has had a long run in some form; although USB-C is sort of challenging it now, there are so many USB-A things out there that I suspect I'll be able to plug it in for two or three decades to come (if it's still working).

(PC internal drive physical interfaces have not been so long lived; IDE gave way to SATA, which may now be giving way to NVMe for many desktop machines. And my first PCs used SCSI drives, but that's another story.)


Comments on this page:

On the other hand, the USB flash drive would probably not last somewhere around a decade of 24/7 usage with no failures or bad sectors (although not with a high activity level; this was a workstation's HD). An actual SSD would probably do better, but I don't know if it would manage nearly a decade (although I can certainly hope).

I wouldn't count on it. This post reminded me that my (home) desktop is coming up on 10 years old, and in that decade I've had two SSD failures (which were painful, but not nearly as bad as if I hadn't taken backups and mirroring seriously). The HDDs (a mirrored pair of two different models from the same manufacturer) are still chugging along, though some of the credit for that may go to the fact that they're primarily for backups and have a very different workload.

Written on 07 January 2021.
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Last modified: Thu Jan 7 23:29:44 2021
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