[SIGCIS-Members] Candidate World Records -- Biggest Hard Drive, Tape and Portable Computer

thomas.haigh at gmail.com thomas.haigh at gmail.com
Sun Sep 20 20:44:38 PDT 2020



I have agreed to a fun little consulting job of helping the Guinness World
Records people update and improve their computer-related records. Although
the Encyclopedia Britannica and other traditional authorities have fallen by
the wayside, the records book is still going strong and is perhaps the last
published authority standing. Also, somebody once tried to prove me wrong by
invoking it. So now I can make sure that doesn't happen again.


I'll be dribbling out a couple of additional requests over the next week or
so, not to overwhelm the list. I have some fun candidate records, but would
like to see if they hold up among this expert body. BTW, If you have an idea
for a good record feel free to pitch it to me, but to avoid overwhelming the
list better to send it directly. We are trying to avoid firsts, which have
traditionally accounted for the majority of the computer-related records.


BIGGEST HARD DISK: First up, the biggest hard disk. Not the largest
capacity, the BIGGEST. I figure records like that will illustrate better
than finding some boring box with a high capacity, and are less likely to be
out of date by the time the book is published. Plus where do you draw the
line between a drive and an array?


Everyone knows RAMAC, which apparently had 24 inch platters. Platters
generally shrank over the years, as everything else being equal smaller
platters can be spun faster, so I believe later mainstream IBM systems were
smaller. But third parties offered higher performance, higher capacity
drives. The best candidate appears to be the Bryant Model 2 Disk File from
the early 1960s. That had 39 inch platters. The image below is from a
brochure online at CHM:



According to Wikipedia, "Also in 1961, Bryant Computer Products introduced
its 4000 series disk drives. These massive units stood 52 inches (1.3 m)
tall, 70 inches (1.8 m) long, and 70 inches (1.8 m) wide, and had up to 26
platters, each 39 inches (0.99 m) in diameter, rotating at up to 1,200 rpm."
This Computer History Museum page seems to be hedging bets by calling the
Bryant units "among the physically largest drives ever built":


I'm fairly sure that the Bryant platters were the largest in a standard
commercial product. Can anyone prove differently? Or know of a
special-purpose system with even larger platters?


BONUS - HEAVIEST TAPE REEL: I am pretty sure that the IBM SSEC had the
heaviest tape reel, at 400 pounds, which was a roll of the paper stock cards
were cut from. I believe this was run in an endless loop to used as a high
speed lookup table. It had to be lifted with a special mechanism. But if
anyone knows of a bulkier tape, let me know. The SSEC tape is documented at
http://www.columbia.edu/cu/computinghistory/ssec-tape.html. That includes
this description from Herb Grosch:


"About those tapes: the card plant in Endicott got enormous rolls of card
stock from the paper mills. For regular card manufacturing they slit the
rolls to three-inch width (card height). For the SSEC they furnished rolls
eight inches wide (card length). The resulting rolls weighed 400 pounds, and
had to be hoisted onto the SSEC with a thoughtfully-provided chain fall! For
the Stallion, we pushed the rolls up a ramp.

"The punch stations, slightly modified from standard IBM reproducer
components, punched two round sprocket holes at the edges, and 78(!) regular
IBM rectangular holes in between. The sprockets drove the tape one line at a
time, and drives under separate program control fed the fresh or pre-punched
tape under ten 78-brush reading stations. The tapes hanging down could
lengthen and shorten, and for program tapes and the table lookup unit we
cemented the tape end-to-end into short loops (yes, someone had had to
provide the jig). There were three of these monsters at the end of the
machine room. Up to 36 of the fixed-length tape loops could be mounted on
the separate table-lookup unit, which in later years was also sometimes used
for program reading. For the lunar calculation, I used 24 loops to make
lookup time as short as possible, and we got programming from the main tape




That appears to be DYSEAC, which makes sense as AFAIK it was the only
portable full-scale vacuum tube computer. It apparently weighed 20 tons and
took two 40 foot trailers to move. (Weight includes the trailers, but not
the tractors to pull them). I asked Evan Koblentz, who wrote a book about
portable computers, and he couldn't think of a heavier/larger one. This
makes even the Osbourne and IBM PC Portable look extremely light. Read about
the DYSEAC here: http://ed-thelen.org/comp-hist/SEAC
<http://ed-thelen.org/comp-hist/SEAC&DYSEAC-3-150.pdf> &DYSEAC-3-150.pdf,
including this image:




It would be fun if official recognition of these records prompted some
enterprising teams to attempt to beat them.


Best wishes,












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