The bootless PC and terabytes on a dime

Systems using nanotechnology could do away with disk drives as well as the boot-up process

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IBM invented two foundational nanotechnologies: scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM), both of which modify materials at the atomic and nanometer scale. Capable of imaging individual atoms and positioning them one by one, these technologies lay the groundwork for manipulating data at a molecular level.

Another subatomic project at IBM is a high-density storage system known as "Millipede," which is being carried out in IBM's Zurich laboratories based on its so-called AFM technology.

Millipede uses AFM in its drive heads to read and write to a polymer surface by creating and removing indentations that are only 10 nm in size. Also known as probe-based storage, "Millipede is able to re-use the same area thousands of times", says Karin Vey, the communications manager at IBM's Zurich Research Laboratories.

AFM technology works by using thermo-mechanical writing to the platter's surface by applying a local force through the cantilever/tip to the polymer layer and simultaneously softening the polymer layer by local heating. Once softening has been initiated, the tip is pressed into the polymer, and an indentation is created corresponding to the logical bit "1." The layer without indentation represents the logical bit "0".

To read the written information, the cantilever originally used for writing is given the additional function of a thermal read back sensor by exploiting its temperature-dependent resistance. While Millipede is a research project, IBM claims it is at a "very advanced stage."

Another subatomic storage project IBM is working on is called storage-class memory. IBM is attempting to use this technology to create cheap nonvolatile semiconductor memory for use in devices like cell phones and cameras.

Gian-Luca Bona, IBM's head of science and technology research, said that though storage-class memory is still in the development phase and no products are yet associated with it, "storage-class memory devices could also be used in the creation of microdrives that close the gap between flash drives and hard drives."

Colossal Storage Corp. in Pokomoke City, Md., is developing a rewritable 3-D volume holographic removable disk media. The nanotechnology under development at Colossal is a possible replacement for today's magnetic disk drives and memory chips. Unlike magnetic media, which only stores data on the surface of the disk drive, holographic optical disk drives use two or more laser beams that work with one another to read and write data throughout the disk media.

Michael Thomas, CEO of Colossal, says holographic optical media drives are superior to other storage nanotechnologies because of their 100+TB capacities, near zero read and write response times and 100-plus year lifespan.

The Colossal Storage FE Optical
The Colossal Storage FE Optical Drive will offer symmetrical nondestructive read and writes for the retention of data storage for 100 years or more. Thomas says patents on a semiconductor read/write head for ferroelectric optical storage media memories promise to raise data storage densities by a factor of 1,000 or more and will add at least 10,000 times the data storage capacity per peripheral storage footprint.
The Colossal Storage FE Optical Drive will offer symmetrical nondestructive read and writes for the retention of data storage for 100 years or more. Thomas says patents on a semiconductor read/write head for ferroelectric optical storage media memories promise to raise data storage densities by a factor of 1,000 or more and will add at least 10,000 times the data storage capacity per peripheral storage footprint.


(Click image to see larger view)

Unlike AFM-based storage nanotechnologies, which require two dissimilar materials to come into contact with each other and create friction and shorten a disk media's lifespan, holographic storage has noncontact surfaces, so it has a higher degree of reliability. "Introducing a media like holographic optical disk drives allows users to invest in a disk media once and for all and not force them to continually reinvest in new storage technologies," Thomas says.

The first generation of holographic optical disk media and disk drives is scheduled to hit the market this year when InPhase Technologies Inc. in Longmont, Colo., releases a 300GB holographic disk and drive. About the same size as today's DVDs, they will hold the equivalent of 64 full-length movies. While they initially will be available in a write-once format, a rewritable disk is on InPhase's product road map.

Despite the promises of storage nanotechnology, advances in existing magnetic disk media technologies and difficulties in constructing reliable production facilities are slowing the development of these next-generation technologies.

HAMR time

Seagate Technologies LLC's new HAMR (heat-assisted magnetic recording) technology addresses current concerns about today's perpendicular recording methods for magnetic disk media. According to Mark Kryder, Seagate's chief technology officer and senior vice president of research, current disk media with perpendicular recording could reach its limits in about five years. "HAMR could extend magnetic recording areal density by about a factor of 10 beyond what can be accomplished with perpendicular recording, and has the potential of extending the hard drive technology another six to seven years beyond its five-year limit."

Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording technology
Seagate's HAMR uses a laser and a magnetic head to read and write data on new and more-stable disk medium such as iron-platinum. The laser heats the disk medium, while the magnetic head writes to it, allowing the disk to store more data. After the media cools, the disk and data becomes very stable.The technology can theoretically support 50 terabits per square inch.
Seagate's HAMR uses a laser and a magnetic head to read and write data on new and more stable disk medium such as iron-platinum. The laser heats the disk medium, while the magnetic head writes to it, allowing the disk to store more data. After the media cools, the disk and data becomes very stable.The technology can theoretically support 50 terabits per square inch.
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