$250,000 Hard Drive Teardown


Have you ever seen hard drive platters this big before? Of course you haven’t, the cost of this unit is way beyond your pay grade. But now that it’s decades old we get a chance to post around inside this beast. [Dave Jones] — who we haven’t seen around these parts in far too long — takes a look inside this $250,000 storage device.

In this episode of the EEVblog [Dave] is tearing down a late 1980’s IBM hard drive. This an IBM 3390. It stores either 1.78GB or 3.78GB. These days we’d never use a mechanical drive for that little storage as flash memory is so much cheaper. But this was cutting edge for servers of the day. And that’s why you’d pay a quarter of a million dollars for the thing.

[Dave] does what he’s known for in the video after the break. He energetically pours over every aspect of the hardware discussing function and design choices as he goes.

64 thoughts on “$250,000 Hard Drive Teardown

  1. I’m a big fan of Dave’s work, but calling it world’s most expensive harddrive… Eh, no… The 5 MB Harddrive in the RAMAC 305 system cost $50.000 in 1956, which is a LOT more… Also, he keeps saying 10 MB, it’s way bigger than that, bummer he didn’t check that before shooting the video…

  2. Could someone please explain to me why someone with such an unbelievably shrill and annoying voice insists on making rambling, long youtube uploads instead of just posting some photos and text on a blog like everyone else?

    1. There’s some truth in what you are saying, but I actually like watching these videos while soldering, they are long, detailed, nobody is in a hurry, you don’t really have to focus very much when watching, it’s a nice background.

    2. These videos have original content, they’re worth watching. Photographs are good, but 20 seconds of scrolling is less enjoyable than sitting back and watching for a few minutes.

      1. Except the problem is 95% of the time I want fast answers, and I can glance at an article in 20 seconds to get what I want, or watch a 10 minute video. Video blogs and walkthroughs infuriate me.

    3. Yes. The voice had me almost stoping the video. I’m so glad I didn’t. It was AMAZING. I got over the high pitched voice without noticing. The teardown was too interesting. The guy is also very knowledgeable! I went trough the whole 43 minutes! Just skip the first five minutes.

    4. I have been enjoying the eevblog videos for over a year, and I’v never thought his voice to be annoying. Even if you do, you should get over it. He provides a great insight and I have learned a lot from him. He has a way of taking a somewhat complex topic and putting it in terms that even I can understand.

    5. When I first watch his video about SMD soldering, my girlfriend insisted me to turn the volume down because the voice is so annoying. Well guess what? I agreed and did so.

      You are not alone on the voice thing, but also gotta admit he loves dissemble things and he is a pro.!

    6. While we can agree that the voice an rhetoric may be…unorthodox blathering negative comments like that on a blog he actually reads is plain rude. I’m not a fan of the speak, but he makes some really informative videos and Dave, if you read this, thank you.

  3. I’ve seen bigger. Try a 1MB (that’s what the label said, anyway) single-platter unit the size of a washing machine. Saw it at a government surplus auction — it went to one of those people attempting to reclaim gold out of old mainframe equipment. I bid $10, and it sold for $20, IIRC.

    1. I think most of those platters could be swapped out also. So that would have been just the drive unit.
      I used to play in a “dump” at a military base where I was growing up. They did a LOT of secret communications at that base, lots of high tech stuff. I used to see all that stuff when they dumped it. Flip-Flops larger than video cards you plug into a machine today, and they used tubes. And tapes by the mile….. I loved that place!!!

    2. I have some of those. About as big around as a large pizza, and maybe 1.5 to 2 times as thick as a pizza box. The documentation says that it holds on the order of one billion bits. The entire hard drive unit is a little shorter than a dorm fridge. The computer itself runs the OS off dual 8″ floppies. Bummer that I don’t have the floppies to run on it. I’ve had this computer for years, but never had the time and energy to do much of anything with it.

  4. I took apart a old IBM mainframe hard drive that same size. Every piece had a part number on it, as if ithey would come out and repair parts of the hard drive! I guess for 250k$ they would have to.

    Also the magnets inside it were scary! Stuck to a metal door, it was almost impossible to get it off without sliding it around to the edge of the door.

    1. I did this once, stuck the magnet to a metal beam in the building I was working in at the time. But, the metal was painted. The magnet was so powerful it squished the paint underneath it and effectively glued it in place, couldn’t slide it to the edge to get it off, just wouldn’t move. Tried using several things to pry it loose with no success. I think its probably still there.

      1. just think about having your hand/finger between that :/ now thats a scary thought :) i would hate to see a neodymium that big it would have to have a label on it saying “warning injury may occur, keep 3ft from any ferous materials” :)

        1. This have happened before and a guy got his finger bones smashed to bits and the fingernail was left sitting between the magnets!

          I think it was posted here on Hackaday aswell.

          These things if stuck somewhere they can’t be just pulled out at least by the hand as it’s easy to get your hand smashed,they need to get either demagnetized or carefully popped away using an electromagnet.

    1. I remember we had one that you would put on your forehead to check if you were running a fever. This was when I was a kid though so it’d be 20-25 years ago. And of course I had a transformer once that had a small black patch on its chest that you could rub to see which faction he belonged to.

  5. Yeah, that’s also back when programmers actually made an effort to keep their programs as small as possible because they knew storage and memory space was at a premium. They also had good and free tech support back in those days too. I remember when Word Perfect corp, actually got into “battles” with other companies over who had the best tech support.
    That is one big honking drive though!! Whoo Hoo!!

  6. I worked on a 5MB drive (Honeywell 259 – rebadged CDC?) back in the early 70’s. from memory, ten platters, 3000 rpm, 200 cyls. We needed six on line – so had seven (one was ALWAYS down for daily calibration.) Car headlight bulb to feed the fibre optics for head positioning, sector detection etc . when the lamp aged, all hell broke loose.

  7. I’ve taken apart a similar era HP disk drive. The head servo magnets were astonishingly strong. One is attached to my cube wall. It is so strongly attached that most people assume that it is glued in place.

  8. This guy doesn’t have the slightest clue what he’s talking about. 6:30 into the video he says a halon dump will kill you. Not even close. I’ve been in a computer room when the halon was dumped, and seen an operator try to light a match. It just goes out. Didn’t watch the rest after that.

      1. Yes but Halon in enough of a concentration to put out a fire is safe to breathe in. A miracle of chemistry! It’s just a shame (AIUI) that it’s a CFC so is banned now. Apparently companies that still have the systems dread the day it ever goes off, cos that’ll be the end of it. There are people who work reclaiming it from wherever they can get it, since it’s not made anymore. It’s expensive!

    1. The problem is that Back in the 80’s you could fill almost anything in a 10mb HDD on an IBM PC.

      Today a 4gb flash drive is like a floppy.

      In 30 years i imagine the 1 Terabyte flash drive will be standard but still as useful as a floppy.

      I can also imagine that it will be transfering files at 10000gbps over the air and it will be harvesting sound and vibration to keep its self powered with consumption of 2mAh.

    2. For a long while when I upgraded drives it cost me $400, however the capacity kept going up ten-fold. 40MB, 400MB, 4GB…

      I guess my next drive will be 40TB and cost $400. Are we there yet? ($400 will get me about 8TB, so not quite yet.)

    3. It’s really staggering the amount of data storage we can have in a miniscule area for an equally miniscule price these days.

      I bought an 8GB USB key the other day at a local retailer, I actually had picked up a 4GB one an the checkout lady pointed out that the 8GB one was on special for $0.50 more.

      And most of the size of a USB key (and SDCard…) is simply to make it easier for clumsy humans to handle it physically, the volume of the device that actually comprises the data storage… almost negligible.

  9. Well I -have- seen platters that were bigger actually. In college we scrounged very old hardware like VAXen and got them running again. Those platters is puny compared to the Digital RM05 disk packs that held the 4.3BSD os powering our VAX-11/750. The PDP-11/23 ran rl01 and rl02 with rather large removable disk packs too.

  10. “He energetically pores over every aspect of the hardware discussing function and design choices as he goes.”

    Fixed…unless the gentleman doing the narration is oozing some sort of information-filled fluid.

    Spell check’s wonderful, but reality check would be even nicer!. Attention to detail indicates attention to everything. Ditto on the reverse.

    It’s not all bad news, as the vid’s worth the wait.

  11. I remember in college our electronics professor had filled half the room with decommissioned servers. There was a hard drive about the size of a chest freezer with a capacity of a whopping 5MB. It had magnet warning stickers on it. There were also a couple of terminals with built-in Model M’s, 8″floppies, and tape drives, as well as wide-carriage printers. Turning all the equipment on caused the lights to dim and you just about needed hearing protection when everything was running.

  12. we found roll royces old mainframe at the scrapyard in Bristol, there where hard drives like a top loading chest freezer, under the glass lid was a stack of disks about 14″ in diameter, we took great pleasure in hurling them around the yard like frisbees!

    1. Had some old 1980’s burroughs units
      and the power supply/memory cabinets
      were framed in 1″ tubing w/ 1/8 sheet steel.
      large enough to set a common push mower
      on top of it.
      Welded some heavier castors on and
      bolted a vice to one corner and been
      using it as a work table for 20 years.

  13. There is a decent video where adam savage shows his HUGE HDD from 1980. I want to guess that it was 1TB but i may be wrong. He also had (RAM?) memory that used tubes in the size of 1 bit or a byte, which was simply 8 of the bits on 1 mount. Cool video, easy to find on youtube.

  14. I have 2 larger and smaller capacity drives in may garage. I have been lugging them around for years. I plan to encase the platters in acrylic and and use them as dinner plates. Perhaps I will link some pics later.

  15. Seems like a really nice guy, very enthusiastic, and it was very generous of him to spend so much time on something that many of us are interested in…. But I couldn’t make it through the whole thing with his staccato speaking. Sorry :(

  16. His voice is a tad annoying, but I find with a lot of annoying voiced youtubers you get used to it after a while, if the content is engaging. Just a wee bit of on-line research, reveals that a lot of his figures are suspect though, as in the price of the unit would be less than $100,000 and a lot larger than 10 Meg, as it’s a 1991 drive I’d guess it was a lot bigger than that, but who knows, he must have got those figures from somewhere.

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