A $10k Electronic Device for a Penny?

A $10k Electronic Device for a Penny?

A $10k Electronic Device for a Penny?

Robert Harley

Back in 1979, Walter Becker and Donald Fagan (Steely Dan) wanted to store drum sounds in solid-state memory. Their long-time engineer, the great Roger Nichols, set about to build such a system. The problem was that in those days, memory capacity was limited relative to the requirements of full-bandwidth digital audio.

Nichols nonetheless found someone who could supply him with one megabyte (1MB) of memory, and the two agreed to meet in the San Francisco airport to make the transaction. Both men showed up carrying duffle bags; the seller’s contained multiple large boards populated with row upon row of memory chips, and Nichol’s bag contained bundles of hundred-dollar bills. Nichols flew back to L.A. content that his $10,000 for 1MB of memory was well spent.

I thought of this story, told to me by Nichols himself many years ago, as I upgraded the memory in my PC. I bought two 1GB memory cards, and paid $11.99 each for them. For the sake of mathematical simplicity, we’ll call it $10 for 1GB of memory. As I was about to install the boards in my PC, it struck me that what Nichols paid $10,000 for thirty years ago now cost just one penny. Looked at another way, 1GB would have cost ten million dollars in 1979 —a price differential of one million times.