Apple ProFile storage unit

ProFiles in storage (all 5 MB worth)

Five Megabytes. $3,499. What a bargain.

When this mysterious beige box arrived at Apple dealerships almost 38 years ago, the new Apple ProFile seemed like a device from the future. A magic box that held a virtual drawer full of 140KB floppy discs was a miracle of technology to those used to fumbling around with 5-1/4″ floppy discs. How much did Apple’s first hard disk drive cost? A mere $3,499 at its September 1981 introduction. Imagine spending $700 per MB when your Apple Watch today has 100 times the memory – just in system RAM. Doesn’t even just opening a blank Word document today use a few MB?

How does this all stand up today? Well, the Apple ProFile was about $10,000 in today’s dollars and had the capacity of a couple of MP3 songs today. Or maybe a few Excel docs. Utilizing a Seagate ST-506 mechanism with an Apple-designed controller, the ProFile was designed for use with the Apple III and available for use on an Apple II with the optional ProFile interface card. What would we do with all that storage?

When I first saw an Apple ProFile in the fall of 1981 while working at an Apple dealership, my mind raced at the prospects. An infinite amount of data storage which would send floppy discs to the waste heap. Not really. The ProFile was around two grand less than the average price of a new car, required ProDOS and had limited software to take advantage of the increased capacity. Applications like PFS:File claimed 30 thousand records could be stored but in practice, no one really tried. The ProFile later found use on the Apple Lisa, released in 1983 and was normally sold with each one (of which 7-ProFile drives could supposedly be chained).

Apple’s first foray into hard disk storage seemed at the time like the hopeful transformation from recipe-storing-using-VisiCalc home computer to maybe something more. But just one month earlier on August 12, 1981, IBM had announced the IBM PC and the computer landscape would be forever changed. For a moment in the fall of 1981 however, Apple fans got a glimpse of a future without floppy disks and a magic box that could open up the imagination for uses of Apple’s early hardware.

Today, cloud storage can be pennies a gigabyte and accessible anywhere, anytime. Large capacity servers which sprung from the evolution of the PC made its way into offices, once again changing the data storage landscape. Now almost four decades later, the cloud has almost rendered local hardware storage devices as obsolete niche products, and along with ubiquitous high speed internet access, enables users to revel in virtually unbounded data capacity.

This time, however, for far less than the average price of a new car.