The Changing Costs of Storing Data

In 2016, the average cost of a GB of storage was $0.21 for an HDD whereas the same amount of storage would cost you an average of $1 if you purchased an SSD.

What, though, did it cost to store data in years gone by? Few will be surprised to discover that it was considerably more expensive than it is today, but the figures are still likely to shock you – particularly when we take inflation into account.

Let’s start with the world’s very first hard drive, IBM’s gigantic 350 Disk File. It contained 50 24-inch disks, was the size of your average household wardrobe, stored a total of 5mbs of data and could not be purchased outright but leased for $2,425 per month. Let’s put that another way: that’s $29,100 per year. Oh, and remember that a GB of storage cost just $0.21 last year? With this drive it would cost over $5.6 million every year. That’s over $153 million when you factor in inflation.

Don’t think things got any better when personal computing began to go mainstream in the 1980s, though. IBM’s revolutionary 3380 model may have been able to store 2.52 GBs but it still cost $61,000 in 1981 – almost $200,000 in today’s money. Still, at least the cost per GB had fallen; even if you’d still be paying a whopping $24,305; $79,005 when you take inflation into consideration.

Still, what person could possibly have needed 2GBs of storage in the early 1980s? Maybe smaller drives were more affordable. Well, the first 5.25 inch drives designed for the home user generally retailed for around $2,250 ($7,313 today) so they were significantly cheaper than IBM’s monster, but these ‘affordable’ drives stored just 5MBs of data meaning that you’d be paying $450,000 per GB. That’s over $1 million in today’s money. No wonder floppy disks were so popular!

By 1995, costs had fallen significantly with consumers paying approximately $687 per GB of storage ($1,120 with inflation). This fell to roughly $7.50 in 2000 ($10.50 today) then just $0.56 by 2005 ($0.81 today).

Still, as the cost of a GB of storage has plummeted we’ve found ourselves needing more and more space to store our data. In the 1950s (and even the 1980s) few files would have exceeded a few KBs whilst today video footage, music and a variety of other data-rich files take up literally dozens of GBs on drives of all kinds worldwide. Thank God storage media is now more affordable than ever!