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Think Retro: Who else kinda misses their Zip disks?

Christopher Phin | Jan. 28, 2015
These days, of course, the idea that 100MB is "a lot of data" is pretty preposterous. Shoot H.264 video at 1080p and 60fps for four seconds, such as on an iPhone 6, and you've generated a hundred megs of data.

Let's round things off with some math, because who doesn't love math? And don't worry; the good news is that we're going to let computational engine WolframAlpha do the heavy lifting for us. If you go to wolframalpha.com you can take advantage of its natural language processing to work out how tall would be the stack of Zip disks you'd need to store the data on your biggest hard disk. For me, that's my Drobo, which currently has a capacity of 5.42TB. So all I do is enter "(5.42TB/100MB)*6mm" — since Zip disks are 6mm thick and hold 100MB of data — and I see in the "Comparisons as height" section that the resulting tower of Zip disks would be a little taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

To be sure, I'm fudging things a little here. Files larger than a hundred megs — which aren't uncommon these days — would need to be split across multiple disks, we're not taking into account the overhead of directory structures, and I haven't bothered to dial in whether these capacities are in base — 10 or base — 2 (though WolframAlpha, to its credit, can accommodate this). You should be careful to use uppercase to denote terabyte (TB) and megabyte (MB), too, as if you use Tb and Mb, the calculations will be off by at least one order of magnitude.

Regardless, this gives you some sense of how huge today's hard disks are, and of what — if you'll excuse the pun — a towering achievement that explosive growth in capacity really is.

(I haven't mentioned the Zip disks' Click of Death, partly because I never experienced it myself, but mostly because I don't want to rob you of the catharsis of bitching about it in the Comments. I cede the floor!)

 

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