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These technologies will blow the lid off data storage

Lucas Mearian | March 10, 2016
Hard disk drive (HDD) and solid-state drive (SSD) makers are about to wow the storage market again.

Both Western Digital and Seagate are working on HAMR HDDs.

"HAMR is our next technology that will keep our march along areal density curve going," said Mark Re, Seagate's chief technology officer. "We seem to go through these transitions every 10 years or so."

As disk drive densities increase, the potential for data errors also increases due to a phenomenon known as superparamagnetism effect. That's where the magnetic pull between bits close together on a platter's surface can randomly flip, resulting in their value changing from one to zero or vice versa. Random bit flips result in data errors.

HAMR uses a special aperture on the HDD's read/write head called a near-field transducer that concentrates a large quantity of photons onto the spinning disk in as small a size as possible.

HAMR technology, created by Seagate, uses a laser to briefly heat a hard drive's disk surface during magnetic head recording. The heat shrinks a platter's data bits and tightens the concentric circles, known as tracks, to increase density. HAMR also uses nanotube-based lubrication to allow the read/write head of a disk to get closer to the surface in order to be better able to read and write data.

HAMR technology will eventually allow Seagate to achieve a linear bit density of around 10 trillion (10Tbits) per square inch -- 10 times higher than today's best HDD areal density of about 1Tbit per square inch, according to Re.

Seagate has already demonstrated HAMR HDDs with 1.4Tbits per square inch -- still 40% higher than today's best HDDs.

"We don't see others out there ahead of us. We have a pretty long history with HAMR. We've been working on it for about 10 years," Re said. "We're a bit more aggressive on when we'll ship it."

Seagate plans to begin shipping HAMR HDDs next year.

Using HAMR, the theoretical density for hard drives skyrockets, yielding a 3.5-in. server or desktop drive with up to 60TB of storage, and a single-platter 2.5-in. laptop drive with up to 20TB of capacity.

The marketing campaign Seagate has used is "30TB by 2020," but Seagate CTO Mark Re told Computerworld that's just a target. 

Even beyond HAMR, the HDD industry has plans for greater drive density. Bit patterned media (BPM) recording would use nanolithography to down predefined bits of data on a drive platter, as opposed to current HDD technology where each bit is stored in 20 to 30 magnetic grains.

BPM could increase HDD density up to 200Tbits per square inch.

"Considering the latest 4TB external drive is 5 platters, that's pretty insane," said Nathan Papadopulos, Seagate's corporate communications manager.

"It's clearly still a ways out," Re added. "We're looking at this technology for middle of the next decade."


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