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A Century of Computer Memory: A History

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A Century of Computer Memory: A History

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Humans have stored information from the earliest days, however it wasn’t until the modern age that we had the capabilities to do so en-mass. The 21st century has led us to have the ability to store more data than our wildest dreams would’ve allowed only a few decades before.

In terms of memory, the size and the speed of memory, we’ve come on in leaps and bounds and every few years we surpass ourselves, pushing innovation to create amazing possibilities. With this in mind we thought we’d take a look through the history of computer storage over the last 100 years or so.

1920s and 30s

Magnetic Tape – the first giant leap in terms of memory occurred in 1928 with the invention of the magnetic tape by German Fritz Pfleumer. This was soon surpassed by the Magnetic Drum in 1932, which was a similar but larger device capable of storing more information.

1940s – Arrival of RAM

Fredrick Williams developed the first random access computer at the University of Manchester in 1946, it was capable of storing 1024 bits by 1948. A year later Delay Line Memory came to the fore. This was a closed loop that allowed recirculation of information. It’s quite similar to inputting a repeating telephone number from the directory until an individual dials the number.


Magentic core memory using small magnetised rings was invented in the 1950s. This stored information from the polarity of the magnetic field the ceramic rings held. It was soon followed on by the hard drive in 1956, which differs slightly as it retrieved information from a flat magnetic surface.

1960s – Cassette

Invented by Philips in 1963 and originally intended for dictation machines, the cassette was used to distribute music and became increasingly popular with the arrival of Sony’s Walkman in 1979. The first DRAM also came about in the 1960s. Invented by Robert Dennard, it held one transistor DRAM cell that sorted info as an electrical charge in a circuit. This resulted in more memory being capable of being held in less space.

1970s – Floppy Disc Era

The floppy disc era. The 1970s saw the arrival of the 8” and the 5.5” floppy disc in 1971 and 1976 respectively. Both were a portable storage device made of magnetic film encased in plastic. The 3.5” incarnation arrived in 1981.

1980s – Compact Disc

Introduced in 1980, the CD had been the brainchild of James Russell, who came up with the idea that light could be used to record music in the 1960s. Nobody took the idea seriously until the mid-70s when he was approached by Philips and asked to develop it. He did so and in 1980 the CD as we know it was released. This was followed by the CD-ROM in 1984.

There were also further changes in other memory forms too and the late 1980s saw the Digital Audio Tape and the Digital Data Storage format from Sony.


A whole host of new forms of memory arrived in the 1990s – some were notable successes, others are forgotten about.

The MiniDisc was one of the first, introduced in 1991 and discontinued in 1996. Others such as Digital Linear Tape and Magneto Optical Discs also are long gone. However, the 1990s also saw the rise of Compact Flash memory drives similar to the ones we use today, as well as DVDs, CD-RW and Multimedia Cards arrive. The 1990s ended with the release of the USB flash drive.


With the increased pace of progress came another bucket load of innovations. The 2000s also saw numerous innovations. SD-Cards, Blu Ray and x D Picture Cards arrived and are still commonly used and sold by mydigibits. However, WMV-HD, HD-DVD and others are still in living memory but will go the way of Betamax. The future of memory was also revealed in the form of Holographic technology.

This new memory form can hold data inside crystals and polymers within the disc, instead of just on the surface. It also will allow a 3D aspect to visually occur.


The Cloud

Of course, the latest common form of memory usage is that of the cloud. From backing up data, to disaster recovery – the cloud has changed the way we computer, store data and backup.

These are just some of the amazing alterations and changes we’ve seen in the past century – the coming decades should present some more exciting ones. 

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