28

I would like to know how much early PC hard drives cost but have only been aable to find adjacent or unsourced data.

According to the Centre for Computing History:

The "IBM 5161 Expansion Chassis" came with one 10 MB hard disk and allowed the installation of a second hard disk.

According to a user of the Vintage Computer Forum, the 5161 cost $2,881 in December 1983. I have not been able to find out how much a second hard drive cost.

Amazing Facts and Figures About the Evolution of Hard Disk Drives claims:

A 5MB hard disk drive from Apple cost $3,500 in 1981.

They do not provide a source for that claim.

How much did the first hard drives for the IBM PC or Apple || cost, and how big were they?

  • 10
    It you have to ask, then probably "Too Much" ;) – Brian H Dec 3 '20 at 15:54
  • 1
    Isn't the hard drive older than the PC? – Mast Dec 3 '20 at 21:02
  • 1
    @Mast Yes, but I am interested in hard drives for the first widely available personal computers. – Ellen Spertus Dec 3 '20 at 21:33
  • @SolomonSlow Isn't that already addressed in the question? "IBM PC or APPLE II" – JBentley Dec 4 '20 at 14:07
  • @SolomonSlow You can delete your comment if it's no longer relevant. – Ellen Spertus Dec 4 '20 at 18:50

17 Answers 17

36

I looked at trade periodicals from the time in question, because the intended customer for a hard drive in the early 1980's was almost certainly a business or school (look at the prices, particularly after they are adjusted for inflation!)

PC Magazine only started operations in February of 1982, but there were already several hard drives announced or available in the first issue:

  • Datamac Computer Systems: 6MB (US$2995), 12MB (US$3495), 18MB (US$4195), available in May 1982
  • Santa Clara Systems: 5MB, 10MB (no price given, but a US$200 rebate was offered!)
  • Davong Systems: 5MB (US$1995)

Apple II hard drives were a bit harder for me to find. The earliest one that I was able to get information about was in InfoWorld (v.2, n.1: February 18, 1980):

My guess is these prices were all manufacturer's suggested retail price, so the actual amount you would have paid may have been less. Also, this is not an exhaustive list and there may be earlier examples: I chose the earliest examples that I could find after a few searches.

  • 2
    So are those adjusted for inflation or not? :D – Luaan Dec 3 '20 at 18:00
  • 9
    @Luaan no, those are the prices as printed. – Moshe Katz Dec 3 '20 at 18:08
  • 2
    Comparing the two disks that are closest in size, the 12MB Datamac would cost US$9620 and the Corvis 10MB US$17656 in today's money (using the BLS CPI Inflation Calculator) – ErikF Dec 4 '20 at 8:49
  • 10
    Taking the cheapest per MB price of 233$/MB, a modern 32 GB SD card would be worth about 7.5 million $. – Lasse Meyer Dec 4 '20 at 11:41
  • 2
    I remember being giddy when drives crossed the $1/MB marker, it was for a 120M Maxtor I think. I was also extra giddy when I found my first 1GB SCSI (SCSI!!) drive for "only" $999. – Will Hartung Dec 4 '20 at 15:11
19

TL;DR:

How much did the first hard drives for the IBM PC or Apple || cost, and how big were they?

Ready to use setups started around 3,000+ USD for 5 MiB in 1981


Long (Hi-)Story

As usual defining 'first' is hard, as of course some people always attached drives to their micros way before there wer standard offering - our own Bruce Abbott gives a great example for this by attaching an IBM midrange disk drive to a ZX81. Similar there were multiple offerings to add hard drives to micros, even before the Apple II or the IBM-PC.

While there were larger drives before, the Hard Disk Age for micros essentially started in May 1980 with Seagate's ST-506, a full height 5.25 inch drive offering 5 MiB. The drive (without controller) was introduced at 1500 USD as seen in this Byte ad from March 1981. According to this Byte ad of Computer Stop in Torrance in Byte 12/1981 the drive was sold with an Apple II interface for 2500 USD.

A peek at the world right prior to Seagate is well represented by this Morrow Design ad in Byte 3/1981, showing their offerings of an 8 Inch 10 MiB drive at 3700 USD and a 14 Inch 26 MiB at 5000 USD. These are already rather lowered prices compared to years before, nonetheless way undercut by Seagates new offerings. Also such drives were almost always rackmount, while the ST-506 could easy dit a desktop (add-on) case. Another data point may be OSI's C3-C system on the back cover of the same issue, starting at 11 grand for a HD version.

Apple as well used the ST-506 (in modified form) for their first HD add-on, the Profile, for the Apple III (*1), like advertised in this March 1982 ad Sales started at 3500 USD in September 1981.

In 1981 Seagate introduced the ST-412 with 10 MiB, still full height. This is the drive selected by IBM for the PC and PC-XT.

In 1982 the 20 MiB half height ST-225 followed, setting the standard size for years to come.

By late 1982 Prices had already dropped to offerings like a 5 MiB drive (ST-506) for ~1500 USD for a Tandy Model I/III including controller and DOS.


*1 - Used later with Lisa and Apple II as well

  • 1
    Seems about right to me but just to clarify one detail for people who weren't around at the time: 14", 8" and 5.25" refer roughly to platter diameter. "Full height", "half height" and so on refer to thickness, i.e. very roughly speaking the number of platters. Both diameter and thickness decreased drastically as head technology (hence bit packing density) improved. I'd add that 14" drives generally predated Winchester technology, so it's not fair to compare their area with those of later devices. – Mark Morgan Lloyd Dec 3 '20 at 14:24
  • Speaking of the Lisa, this September 1983 publication says a Lisa computer and Profile disk was $6,995. The August 1984 issue describes the $1,995 10MB Tecmar "Mac Drive". The September 1984 issue describes the 86MB Priam DataTower for Lisa which included a 1/4" tape drive for $8,995. – joe snyder Dec 3 '20 at 16:00
  • @MarkMorganLloyd True,except, the original winchester drive was 14 inch and worked different from later drives :)) Around 1980 it became a synonym for all in one drives - which included 14 inch as well as any smaller size. Eventually replaced by it's generic designation as hard disk. – Raffzahn Dec 3 '20 at 19:05
  • @MarkMorganLloyd - 14" drives go back to 1964 with IBM 2310 drive, with 1MB capacity. By the early 1970's capacity increased to 5 MB per platter, typically with 2 platters, one fixed, one removable "cartridge" platter. IBM's removable 11 platter (used 20 surfaces) 14" "washing machine" type drives were 40MB, while CDC bumped capacity to 80 MB, again during the early 1970's. – rcgldr Dec 3 '20 at 19:24
  • 1
    @rcgldr yes, I've worked on that kit- mostly cleaning out the shavings when things went wrong. – Mark Morgan Lloyd Dec 3 '20 at 19:36
6

Disclaimer: I don't recall the exact prices and dates, so it's only rough estimates.

For my Z80 CP/M system, around 1984 I bought a 20MB hard drive for 3000DM (~ US$ 1200 by that time). It had the 5.25" full height form factor and an ST506/412 interface.

For interfacing with my machine, I used a SASI-to-ST506 controller plus an ECB-based SASI adapter. The SASI-to-ST506 controller was a huge board, same size as the HD, and accounted for DM1500 (~ US$ 600 by that time).

3

The first hard drive I ever saw for sale was at a Radio Shack around 1979 or 1980, as an add on to the TRS80.

It was a 1.5 megabyte drive, priced at $1000. Chief advantage of it over a 180k floppy drive was higher speed and longevity. Floppy discs had a limited lifespan, and could easily be damaged in handling.

In 1990, I bought a 500 meg SCSI drive for $1k, for a NeXT workstation that I got from a BusinessLand that was closing ($2k... a real bargain). Still have that cube up in my attic. To see that in 1990, and to see the first real IDE (the App Builder), when almost everyone was still on DOS and 80x25 text displays was... amazing.

2

I just found a great web page: Disk Drive Prices 1955+, which has one simple chart showing yearly, and in later years monthly, prices of drives. The page was made by John C. McCallum - more details about it on his home page.

Most of the earlier examples are either IBM/DEC drives (not so easily attached to microcomputers) or floppy drives. One that is relevant:

1983 - 5 Meg. HDD - $ 1,595.

Fascinating table, even if it doesn't 100% answer the question.

1

By the time the first hard drives were becoming common at retail for early "clone" PCs, you could buy a 10 MB one for about $250 to $300 in the US. That was the actual price for a 10MB "disk-on-a-card" drive assembly consisting of a Western Digital drive attached to a controller ISA board.

Of course, drives were much more expensive in the very early days of PCs, but by the time (circa 1986) PC clones were widespread and consumers started buying hard drives, but before all PCs came with hard drives, discount units were in the $300 dollar range.

  • 1
    OP is asking about the first HDDs, not when they became common. – RonJohn Dec 4 '20 at 4:30
  • Just to be clear, I consider "First" to be relative. My answer concerns the very early aftermarket hard drives that people actually bought at retail for first-generation (DOS 8088/86) PCs, not the first hard drives that could possibly be obtained in some theoretical marketplace, or for pre-IBM PCs. I think the answer is useful as a contrast to the answers with very high prices, which I suspect few consumers likely paid. – user8356 Dec 4 '20 at 14:04
  • The question gave examples of the era in which OP is asking about. 1986 is not that era. It's as if OP asked about the price of new cars in the Model T era, and you gave examples from the 1940s. – RonJohn Dec 4 '20 at 14:16
  • Not quite Model T vs. 1940s. But while these prices are roughly correct for 1986, hard drives were most definitely in IBM PCs prior to 1986, and at far higher prices. The WD drive-on-a-card was very much a later invention - the first PC hard drives (think "original IBM XT") full-height 5-1/4" drives - couldn't fit those on an ISA card so easily. – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Dec 4 '20 at 15:01
1

Yep, I was a service manager for one of the first Apple stores (before Apple screwed us and sold through Sears...) The Apple Profile came in 5MB and 10MB and were very slow and prone to failure if moved.

Our service contracts had to specify that we would move the profiles as customers were just unplugging them and moving them while the platters were still spun up. They were thousands of dollars for replacement drives (Yes, even for dealers). The Mac 512 was one of the first to have larger hard drives. That was through a third party that built the Hyperdrive, if I remember right, it was initially an internal 20 Meg drive. We had to install a special clip on the 68000 to allow it to interface. It wasn't till the Mac SE, that they included a SCSI port for external hard drives.

1

In the early 1980's Lithgow Electronics [based in Greenock - not so far from "Spango Valley with its own railway station "IBM Halt] had the contract to assemble just 5,000 IBM PC's - single floppy drive. We assembled 50,000 that year !

Then we decided to get some for our own use: First addition was a 5mb TallGrass Winchester unit with a tape backup. Cost £10,000.

Then I wrote a memo to Sir William Lithgow saying the new IBM with a 10Mb hard drive would have a life of 10 years..... MUCH. The IBM PC AT came out soon after. Then the great battle - Token Ring versus what we all have now.

Eur. Ing. Richard Townsend-Rose MA CEng MICE, Glasgow, Scotland ....

1

Are you limiting your question to "IBM PCs?"

Because hard drives for hobbyists existed long before the IBM PC.

I built my first computer, a Heathkit H-89, from a kit. It included 4kB of RAM! I designed and built 64kB of RAM for it, which I built on perf board with wire-wrap wire.

I had a pair of ONE MEGABYTE 8" hard drives that I bought for it! They were pulls from minicomputers, and cost $800 (~1980 dollars) used, each! I spent another $400 for the controller, and a hundred or so for power supplies, cabinet, and cabling. It had a stepper motor, and was not terribly faster than a floppy when seeking, except latency and continuous read was much quicker. I think these were something like $6,000 new at the time.

I was working for Tandem Computers, and we had huge "washing machine" hard drives that held 100 megabytes on a thirteen platter removable pack. These cost upwards of $20,000, which is probably more like $100,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars.

When the industry moved to 300 megabyte removable-pack hard drives, I almost got one of the older models for a reasonable price from my employer, but I didn't have room for a washing machine, nor did I have an air-conditioned room for it, nor 220VAC service, as was required!

I recall a talk by Bill Gates in the mid-1980s, where he said that if the auto industry were like the PC industry, we'd have cars that could go 5,000 miles per hour while getting 1,000 miles to the gallon in fuel economy. Some wag loudly quipped from the audience, "Yea, and they'd crash three times a day!"

Now, people think nothing about starting a 300 megabyte download for some new app that they want to try. My, how things have changed.

0

I had an original Atari 800 with the twin sockets for the cartridges and 48K total of memory. (10K rom on a plug in to the chassis and a separate memory card (individual chips hand soldered) to boost the intrinsic 32K to 48K (BYTES, that was all). That was in the UK in 1978. It, along with the 9 pin dot matrix printer and a 88K (Bytes again) floppy cost me about £2000 UK (about $2.40 to the pound then). 2 Years later I bought a 20MB hard drive that cost me about £1000 - 8 years later a friend of mine 'borrowed' the kit and for the next 5 years it ran the Welsh National Opera's lighting rig.

And I never even got a ticket, nor a tax deductible. But I did get to see a shed load of rehearsals for free. And if I were a drinker, then I would have been unable to count the beers I got bought. Particularly for designing and paying for the RS232 link to their kit, and writing the software to do the linkage.

They were different times. I ended up running my NHS's trust (independent provider of care) and Bull (a French firm) wanted to charge us £15000 for a 64K upgrade to their machine we were using (Unix but not Unix so you couldn't hack it easily).

And when challenged they told me, and I quote "some forms of 64K memory are much bigger in size than others!" I can only assume as I did then, that they meant that they weren't very good at miniaturisation.

  • 2
    Remarkable story. Still, I do not really see how it answers the question or is even related. – Raffzahn Dec 4 '20 at 23:47
  • Sorry - should have made it clear - the hard drive was about 2 inches deep, 12 inches square, gun metal grey and used an IBM compatible hard drive. – SimonN Dec 5 '20 at 17:12
  • Hidden answer: In Wales 20MB Winchester disk 'without IBM interface card' 2,400 USD in 1990. I think the disk also fell off a bus, not just the connector. – MKhomo Dec 27 '20 at 10:35
0

Another anecdotal answer... I bought a 5Mb drive from HP in 1980, which connected via the HPIB interface, for £7,000.

This was bought to connect to an HP9836.

  • That would have been approximately *1.6 USD per GBP for for a price of $11,200 for the 5MB Winchester disk. Which is double the price advertised for the PC 5MB in the USA. At that time there was a 100% cross-Atlantic price mark-up (until the Pacific Rim eventually broke that monopoly).. – MKhomo Dec 27 '20 at 10:23
0

I believe hard drives started becoming popular for IBM PC's (and compatibles ;), for consumers, around 1985-ish usually 10-20MB.

To give an idea of the cost in 1987 when they started becoming more mainstream, I was extremely excited to get my first at a computer show - a whopping 40MB for $400. It was a 5-1/4" half-height, loud whirring vibrating beast. I think I maxed out my RAM to 640K around that time too.

The thought of that drive and buying experience pops into my head every once in awhile when I'm looking at file sizes, free space, etc.

0

In January 1983 I bought one of the first ever 5.25 inch Winchester hard disks. It's marketing style launch was called "Shugart's Case for Success" and the SA604, 6 Mega bytes of unformatted storage capacity, came in a briefcase, which I still have. It came with a photocopy style preliminary OEM manual. I have a cover letter dated May 30,1983 signed by the "Senior Advisory Applications Engineer" saying the updated manuals were enclosed. It was $1727.32 Canadian 1983 dollars.

My friend had an older 8 inch Winchester, similar capacity but more cost. Both were full height drives, and I don't think the term 1/2 height even existed yet.

At the time we were building an 80186 based computer from scratch. 5.25 inch floppies were just starting to be used, but we used an 8 inch floppy drive.

0

My first HD was 60MB and cost ~$800.00 US. I also got 4MB of memort and that cost ~$1000.00. The mothervoard with a 8MHz CPU(286) was ~$1000.00. About the same time(early 80's) I saw an add for a 300MB full height drive for ~$5K.
Cliff

0

This answer is anecdotal. PC Magazine was not the only monthly rag. There was Byte Magazine. But I remember the price of a hard drive then very vividly.

Remember the IBM-PC came with a Floppy Disk Drive ($6000). Two if you were lavish ($8000). But the clones came roaring in with two drives Standard; so that went away quietly. But then -XT showed up right behind, priced in double digit thousands ($13000) with built in hard drive (All 5MB of it).

You then could upgrade your Floppy IBM-PC machine to XT grade with a Winchester Drive for $5000.00. So the earliest IBM-offered stand-alone 5MB Winchester disk went for $5000.00 Retail at IBM authorized stores.

Why am I so sure, you'd ask? Because, I drooled over many a Byte Magazine, over purchasing options, especially after Kaypro - the Oscilloscope manufacturer turned IBM Luggable (CP/M) Clone Manufacturer - decided to throw in a 10MB hard drive into their Kaypro II (2 Floppy, that is), rebranded Kaypro 10 (See Wikipedia reference https://archive.org/stream/byte-magazine-1984-05/1984_05_BYTE_09-05_Computers_and_the_Professions#page/n207/mode/2up) for a grand all-inclusive price of $2395.00 ($2500.00 after Tax).

I dehydrated quite a bit on that, torn about IBM compatibility in exchange for a full system half the price of a single IBM Winchester Drive by itself.

Never got to buy a Kaypro, but later missed its media compatibility promise in its dying models where its tower could read single sided, double sided, double density and high density up to 1.2MB 5-1/4" floppies.

PC Magazine eventually killed off Byte, but that's where the real history lay. Another note to make is that at the time there was no Kit nor other system named PC. IBM coined PC for its 'kit' so PC was then IBM Only - until of course its loss of monopoly first to Phoenix BIOS (which survived IBM's court challenge), then the AT-bus and finally the hoards of willing Pacific Rim manufacturers that could churn out dumb boxes spruced into life by Microsoft's $40.00 MS-DOS.

0

In 1985 I bought a Computer memories CM5619 (19 Mb un-formatted) for a bargain price of $1900. At the time thinking only $100/Meg, what a deal.[D][1]

  • 1
    Most definitly not a bargain in 1985 ... unless you lived somewhere way out, did you? – Raffzahn Dec 28 '20 at 22:23
  • Seattle area from a major distributor. It is the same drive that was used in the first IBM AT computer. – eberg Dec 30 '20 at 0:39
  • Well, I guess there wasn't a computer going with the disk, you have been ripped off big time. Maybe have a look at this page (Byte 85/10) offering 20 MB drives for about 1/4th. Also, the CMI drive IBM used for the AT was the CMI 6426 (20 MB formated - type 2). Which in fact was only sold for a short time before IBM switched to Seagate ST-4026 (and later ST-4038). Not saying it wasn't, just doesn't fit my knowledge. – Raffzahn Dec 30 '20 at 1:20
0

The first mention I can find for a Macintosh hard drive is in the November 1984 Macworld (magazine). The cover story was "Thd Fat Mac Arrives - 512k". It's an ad from Corvus (in San Jose). From the ad:

A hard disk drive available in 5, 11, 16 and 45 megabyte capacities. The software necessary for communicating with the Macintosh is built into the drive. A mount manager utility allows you to organize storage space into smaller volumes; this system permits more files to be stored on disk because Finder does not have to keep track of files for the entire disk at once. You can place the Mac on top of the or up to 15 feet away with the included cable. List price: 5M $1795, 11M $2495, 16M $3195, 45M $4995.

A few things worth noting. The Mac file system at the time was flat (no folders) and the directory structure was read into memory. There were two models, the 128k model and the newly introduced 512k model. You could overwhelm a 128k Mac by having a floppy with a lot of small files. The partitioning mechanism described above was a work-around. Basically, your big hard disk looked like a library of floppy disks.

The other thing was that the only available ports on 1984 Macs were two "high speed" RS-422 serial ports and a proprietary floppy port (for a second floppy drive). My guess is that this plugged into one of the serial ports. It would not have been fast.

The thing was a box. It looks bigger than the base of the Mac and about 4 to 5 inches (10-13 cm) tall (from looking at the ad).

Hard drives didn't become prevalent for Macs until Apple introduced a SCSI port and an hierarchical file system with the Macintosh Plus in January 1986. Owners of the 128k or 512k models could then send their computers into third-party hardware hacking companies who would knit an outrigger board onto the original motherboard that contained a (huge) one megabyte of memory and a SCSI port (that would sneak out the back of the box on a ribbon cable).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.