Western Digital announced two new high-capacity enterprise drives, the Ultrastar DC HC550 CMR HDD and the Ultrastar DC HC650 SMR HDD, on Tuesday. Numerous reports claimed these drives are the first to feature WD's Microwave Assisted Magnetic Recording (MAMR) technology, but a spokesperson told us they "can not disclose specific details about which energy assist technologies are used in each drive."
WD said the drives are part of its Capacity Enterprise HDDs portfolio that ranges from a six-disk 10TB drive with an air-based HDD to a nine-disk 20TB drive with a helium-based HDD. The Ultrastar DC HC550 CMR HDD will be available in 16TB and 18TB capacities, and the Ultrastar DC HC650 SMR HDD will be available in a 20TB capacity, sometime in the first half of 2020. (WD is sampling the drives now.)
The use of Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) in the 20TB drive suggested that WD was finally read to introduce a MAMR drive. The company announced this technology in October 2017 to push HDD capacities up to 40TB. Seagate defended its competitive Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) technology a month later, saying its tiny lasers would scale better than WD's magnetic helpers.
We noticed that WD didn't mention MAMR in the announcement for these new drivers, however, or in the white papers it published. So we reached out to the company and were told "The 18TB Ultrastar DC HC550 is the first HDD in the industry using energy-assisted recording technology. As part of our MAMR development, we’ve discovered a variety of energy-assisted techniques that boost areal density."
MAMR and HAMR are the only two energy-assisted recording technologies headed to mass production that we know of. This could imply that WD is playing coy about the debut of MAMR in one of these drives; using MAMR or HAMR in different HDDs included in the lineup, or using a new recording technology it hasn't yet announced. Hopefully we learn more about what exactly is happening with WD's work on next-gen recording tech sooner than later.
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Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.