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Seagate eyes TeraByte harddrive platters by 2010

Scotts Valley (CA) - Seagate will use a new technology to create the foundation for future harddrives. The company believes that its Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording will allow area densities of up to 50 terabit or more than 700 times the density of today's harddrive platters. Seagate plans to debut HAMR in 2010 with a density of about 1 terabit.

The idea to create a recording technology which differs significantly from today's technique is not really new. For years harddrive manufacturers emphasize that the density of harddrives, which are based on the same basic technology called Winchester, will reach its limit at some point. While especially Seagate has been warning since the mid-nineties, that the end of the 1973 introduced Winchester drive might be near, the industry was able to keep pushing the technology and its magnetic recording mechanism to new record levels each year.

"A few years ago, the density grew by about 60 percent every year and we believed the increase in density was slowing down," said Mark Kryder, Chief Technology of Officer of Seagate. "Today we are reaching more than 100 percent growth in density every year." Seagate's currently largest drive, the Barracuda 7200.7, is close to 70 Gigabit per square inch. Back in 1995, Seagate believed that 10 Gigabit per square inch might not be possible with traditional Winchester drives.

Kryder believes, the limit of the current technology might be somewhere between "100 and 200 Gigabit per square inch". While drives today use a longitudinal recording process and data densities reach their limit, Seagate plans to soon use a perpendicular (vertical) recording method. According to the company, perpendicular recording enables a higher bit density, because it can produce higher magnetic fields in the recording medium. However, increasing densities will challenge manufacturers to find ways to keep magnetized bits from influencing each other and keep magnetic fields stable to avoid data loss.

"At this time, we estimate that perpendicular recording methods may take us all the way to one terabit per square inch," Kryder continued. "When that level is reached, a single 3.5 inch disc will store more than one teraByte of information." Beyond perpendicular recording, the company intends to use a laser beam to assist the recording process.

By 2010 and a data density of one terabit per square inch, Seagate intends to switch to a new recording process which it calls Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR). The company will provide first details about this process at the American Physical Society (APS) conference on March 25. According to Seagate, HAMR has the potential to take the platter to densities of 50 terabits per square inch, which translates into storage space for more than 3.5 million high resolution photos, 2,800 audio CDs or 1,600 hours of movies on a platter with the size of a half dollar (30.61 mm).

HAMR originated from Optical Assisted Winchester technology, which the company acquired with the purchase of Quinta, a small developer of data storage methods, in 1998. Using a laser beam, HAMR heats the surface material before recording data at a specific location, which decreases the need for a stronger magnetic field, as it is the case with growing densities in today's drives. According to Seagate, the magnetic field can be kept stable while the material is cooling down.

"The challenge with HAMR is to work out a reliable disk material which corresponds to the heating process", Kryder said. He mentioned that the company is researching different materials, but declined to provide more details.