HGST's new discovery will double the bit density of today's disk drives by the end of the decade.
The company formerly known as Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, HGST, said that it has broken the 20-nm barrier associated with platter-based storage by combining self-assembling molecules and nanoimprinting. The result is the creation of large areas of dense patterns of magnetic islands only 10-nm wide. These islands are only about 50 atoms wide, and some 100,000 times thinner than a human hair.
HGST, now a Western Digital subsidiary, said on Thursday that the bit density of its new 10-nm pattern is double that of today's disk drives, and currently shows excellent initial read/write and data retention in tests. Once expanded to an entire disk, the nanoimprinting process is expected to create more than a trillion discrete magnetic islands.
"Self-assembling molecules use hybrid polymers, called block copolymers, composed of segments that repel each other," the company explained. "Coated as a thin film on a properly prepared surface, the segments line up into perfect rows. The size of the polymer segments determines the row spacing."
Once the polymer patterns are created, a chip-industry process called "line doubling" makes the tiny features even smaller, creating two separate lines where one existed before, the company said. The patterns are then converted into templates for nanoimprinting, a precision stamping process that transfers the nanometer-scale pattern onto a chip or disk substrate.
"A key challenge proved to be preparing the original surface so the block copolymers form their patterns in the radial and circular paths necessary for rotating disk storage," the company added. "HGST is the first to combine self-assembling molecules, line doubling and nanoimprinting to make rectangular features as small as 10 nanometers in such a circular arrangement."
HGST's new nanolithography achievements arrives at a critical time for HDDs as solid state drives become more prominent in the PC sector. Unfortunately, they come with high cost for consumers despite their speed, especially in larger capacities. As it stands now, the ideal setup is to have a small SSD for the OS, and a large HDD for media storage and other data.
Mechanical drives, on the other hand, continue to be the cheaper route while also offering tons of space for a growing amount of stored user content like movies, TV shows and music. On a cloud-based level, this achievement could have a huge impact, allowing companies to store more data both internally and externally. Cloud-based storage services could boom, or the could bomb, depending on HDD consumer-based prices.
"We made our ultra-small features without using any conventional photolithography," said HGST's Tom Albrecht said. "With the proper chemistry and surface preparations, we believe this work is extendible to ever-smaller dimensions."
HGST is aiming to have the process ready for wide-scale commercial production by the end of the current decade.