How many Punch Cards does it take to store one RAW file?

James "Jingles" Ingles - untitled - 28/10/2014

Memory cards, USB thumb drives, and HDDs are common storage mediums familiar to anyone that has used a computer. Some people, particularly younger generations, have probably never even heard of Zip Drives, Jaz Drives, Floppy Disks (8”, 5.25”, and 3.5”), Mini Disks, SuperDisk (AKA LS-120) or Magnetic Tape. Most people that used those storage mediums have most likely forgotten about them, with the exception of magnetic tape which is still in use today. Does anyone even remember the Magneto-Optical Drive? All of the afore mentioned storage mediums are nothing but casualties of progress relegated to the annls of history.

Most older storage mediums offer only a fraction of the storage space that we enjoy to today. In fact some old storage mediums wouldn’t even be able to hold a single RAW file produced by modern cameras. For example the capacity of the humble 3.5” Floppy Disk was only 1.44MB. You would require 20 3.5” Floppy Disks to store a single 28 MB RAW file.

If you think 20 3.5” Floppy Disks is a bit excessive to store just one single RAW file then stop and ponder how many Punch Cards it would take to store a single RAW file.

Paper punch cards were one of the first mediums used for computer storage. Punch cards were invented in 1725 by Basile Bouchon and Jean-Baptiste Falcon as a more robust alternative to the perforated paper rolls then in use for controlling textile looms in France. Semen Korsakov adapted punch cards to use them as a storage medium, as did Herman Hollerith and IBM who also used and evolved punch cards as a storage medium.

There were different punch card formats, one of the more common formats was the IBM 80-column punch card. As the name suggests it has 80 columns, and 12 punch locations, this gave the card a maximum storage capacity of 960 bits per a card. My camera, a Nikon D600, produces RAW files that weigh in at about 25-30 Megabytes so how many IBM 80-column punch cards would it take to store a single unprocessed RAW file?

I’ll use the RAW file for the above photo as an example. The unprocessed RAW file for the above photo weighs in at nearly 29 MB. To make things easy lets work in bytes. The file is 28,901,376 bytes. A punch card can hold 960 bits. There are 8 bits to a byte, so 960 / 8 = 120 bytes. One punch card can hold 120 bytes, so 28,901,376 / 120 = 240,845. Ergo to store a single RAW file using punch cards would require 240,845 cards!

240,845 punch cards is a lot, but what does that look like? Each card is 7 3⁄8” L x 3 1⁄4” W x 0.007” thick, 0.007 x 240,845 = 1,685.915″. So if all 240,845 punch cards were stacked flat one on top of the other in a single pile that pile would measure 1,685.915” (42.822241 metres) tall, taller, much much taller than an average male Giraffe which measures 5.2 meters tall. In fact the pile would be taller than almost all of the lighthouses in the US.  Alternatively if all 240,845 punch cards were laid out end to end in a single line that line would measure 45.116km long!



If you found this post useful, interesting, or inspiring please support me by becoming a Patreon supporter so that I can keep making useful, interesting, and inspiring stuff. You can also support me by sharing this post on your favourite social network using the buttons below.