750 GB, 1 TB, ... Then What?
The path to the future has already been laid out. Now that Hitachi is first to market with a 1 TB hard disk built around five disk platters, and Seagate and Samsung are preparing to deliver drives with the same capacity but simpler designs (four and three disk platters, respectively), the next step is clear: 1.5 TB drives should be available early in 2008. The 1 TB Samsung SpinPoint F1 uses 333 GB disk platters, which leaves the door open for 1.3 or 1.6 TB drives, assuming Samsung would be willing to build drives with four or five platters. Experience, though, teaches us that this Korean manufacturer probably won't take such steps.
Our predictions rest more on the understanding that Seagate, and possibly others, are in a position to offer drives larger than 1 TB by the end of 2007, should this prove necessary. At the same time, we're compelled to observe that the bulk of hard disks sold include only a single platter, albeit one with the highest data densities available. That's because such drives are the cheapest to manufacture, and thus also most interesting to system builders and savvy consumers alike. In addition, single-platter drives tend to run cooler and make less noise, and thus also to last longer than their multi-platter counterparts.
All of this is why, right now, the sweet spot for hard disk capacity still hovers between 160 an 200 GB per hard disk. Even for these minimalist offerings, new drive models with increased capacities are important, because they raise the bar for the low end of the market in terms of both price and storage volume. Vendors generally seek to deliver new, higher-capacity drive models at the same price point as the preceding drives, simply because they retain market share with big distributors and system builders. Take the single-platter Samsung 320 GB drive as an example: when these are available in large quantities at prices under $50 (or maybe less), they simply knock other market players completely out of the running. In fact, this business is becoming every bit as cutthroat as that of motherboards and graphics cards.
Those who see the inevitable demise of mechanical hard disks in the relentless forward march of Flash-based disks - today, numerous vendors announced models from 8 GB to 64 GB in both 2.5" and 1.8" form factors - also see the wind being taken right out of hard disk vendors' sails. Technologies such as Heat-Assisted Recording, which use a laser beam to warm up the magnetic surface domains before recording data, are very likely to make hard drives more robust than they've been in the past. Likewise, so-called Patterned Media technology is also likely to be introduced within the next years: this medium features clear definition of magnetic surface domains during manufacturing. When combined, our sources tell us that these features should enable 3.5" platters with two-digit terabyte capacities. We're waiting on these developments with bated breath!