Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Al Shugart and the Superparamagnetic Limit

In 1956, at IBM Corporation, Al Shugart, along with Reynold Johnson and a team of engineers, invented the first computer hard drive. The first drives were large and cumbersome, but, as with all technology, the footprint was reduced and the capacity was increased.

Fifty years later, Al's legacy lives on, simultaneously enslaving and liberating millions of people around the world each day.

Alas, Al Shugart is dead at age 76 from complications following heart surgery.

During my days as a tech journalist, I had many conversations with Al. He was always willing to offer his perspective on the world of technology. One of the most interesting conversations I had with him involved the "superparamagnetic limit." In layman's terms, the "superparamagnetic limit" involves the amount of data that can be written to the surface of a magnetic hard drive.

Logic dictates that you can only write so much onto a magnetic surface of limited size, right? But what is that limit? 1GB? 10GB? 100GB? 1TB? Today, most PCs come with an 80GB HDD and the upper limit is somewhere around 320 GB. Now, I know they stack platters and use other trick, but still, the amount of data that can be written to a HDD continues to increase dramatically with no end in sight. Amazing.

So, when I think of Al, I think about infinite possibilities. He was an expansive guy and his legacy has left us with a universe of options, from word processing to podcasting to blogging.

Thanks Al, and may you rest in peace.


No comments: