Happy 50th, hard drive. But will you make it to 60?

Threatening HDD, flash memory will soon be available in 64GB capacities -- with larger devices coming

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Perpendicular recording (Figure 2) is currently being deployed by major HDD manufactures across their product lines. Using perpendicular recording, more data can be stored in the same size (higher density), enabling reduction in number of platters required while increasing capacity, in comparison with longitudinal recording. There are more improvements in the works for the disk drive, including better reliability, less power consumption, smaller footprints, continued drop in price per gigabyte and, of course, increased capacity.

Longitudinal and perpendicular recording Source

Figure 2: Longitudinal and perpendicular recording Source: www.seagate.com

A challenge to building larger-capacity and smaller HDDs is the barrier known as super paramagnetic phenomenon. Super paramagnetism occurs when the magnetic particles on an HDD platter become so small that the magnetic energy holding the particles in place representing a bit can be influenced by thermal energy, resulting in lack of data integrity. The traditional approach for recording bits of data on a HDD using longitudinal recording was heading for the super paramagnetic brick wall limiting future HDD growth without having to increase the physical size of a disk drive.

To delay the effects of the super paramagnetic barrier for several years, perpendicular recording is being adopted by major HDD manufactures. For example, in mid-September, Seagate demonstrated a record density of 421Gbit per square in. that should result in future disk drives of 40GB or more for 1-in. and 275GB for 1.8-in. consumer electronics products.

At 421Gbit per square inch, future 2.5-in. HDD (6.25 square in. per platter surface) are about two to three years away for notebooks, and the new generation of enterprise-class 2.5-in. disks should have capacities pof about 500GB. For 3.5-in. HDD manufacturers such as Hitachi Ltd. estimate that we should be seeing 2TB HDD around 2009 or 2010, with 1TB 3.5-in. HDD just around the corner. Smaller consumer HDD improvements for 1.8-in. HDD should have capacities of around 200GB in a couple of years. To put this into perspective, an Apple iPod or other MP3 player could, for example, have more storage than a typical laptop or desktop computer that's currently shipping.

To enable the HDD to get out to the 2020 time frame, perpendicular recording will need to be combined with other types of technology including smaller drives. For example, new technology being worked on in research and developments labs include heat-assisted magnetic recording, nicknamed HAMR, or thermal assisted recording, also called TAR, or bit-pattern media are seen as possible technology to be combined with others to continue the HDD evolution until around 2020.

A possible threat to the HDD in I/O-intensive and time-sensitive applications, rugged and harsh environments, and portable devices including notebook computers is SDRAM or flash SSD. The primary advantage of SSD is that there are no moving parts, so seek times are dramatically decreased to improve performance and power consumption compared with a traditional HDD. SSD in the form of SDRAM has been around for several decades as a high-performance storage solution for I/O- and transaction-intensive applications. SSD has been limited in capacity due to high cost of RAM compared with HDD storage, but similar to the HDD, SSD capacities continue to increase while prices decline. Today there are two primary types of SSD technologies, one being RAM similar to what you would find in a typical server or cache in a storage device that requires power to preserve contents of memory, and the other being NAND-based flash.

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