Corporations and consumers who crave more storage on their PCs can rest assured that hard drive makers are working to push well beyond the terabyte barrier. Hitachi claims it has developed the world's smallest read-head technology, and expects its breakthrough to quadruple current storage capacity limits to four terabytes for desktop hard drives and one terabyte for notebook drives.
A terabyte of storage space is equivalent to about one million books, 250,000 digital songs, or 250 hours of high-definition video.
"Hitachi continues to invest in deep research for the advancement of hard disk drives as we believe there is no other technology capable of providing the hard drive's high-capacity, low-cost value for the foreseeable future," Hiroaki Odawara, research director for Hitachi's Storage Technology Research Center, said in a statement.
Coming in 2009
Hitachi researchers report they have reduced existing read heads to the 30-50 nanometer range with current perpendicular-to-the-plane giant magnetoresistive (CPP-GMR) technology. The size of the read heads is some 2,000 times smaller than the width of an average human hair.
The discovery of the GMR effect occurred in 1988, and that body of work was recognized just last week with a Nobel Prize for physics. In 1997, nine years after the initial discovery of GMR technology, IBM implemented the industry's first GMR heads in the Deskstar 16GXP. Today, although disk density growth has slowed, advancements in recording head technology, along with other hard disk innovations, are enabling disk capacities to double every two years or so.
In the past 51 years of the disk industry, recording head technology has seen monumental decreases in size. The first disk recording head, called the inductive head, debuted in 1956 in the Ramac -- the very first hard drive -- with a track width of one-twentieth of an inch, or 1.2 million nanometers. The CPP-GMR head, with a track width of about one-millionth of an inch, or 30 nanometers, represents a size reduction by a factor of 40,000 over the inductive head used in the Ramac in 1956.
Hitachi said CPP-GMR heads will enable hard drive recording densities of 500 gigabits per square inch to one terabit per square inch, a quadrupling of today's highest areal densities. Hitachi also said it expects to incorporate CPP-GMR technology into products in 2009 and predicts the technology will reach its full potential in 2011.
John Rydning, research manager for IDC's Storage Mechanisms: Disk program, called Hitachi's breakthrough an evolutionary step for hard disk technology. What this means for the market is the possibility of a 1-TB drive in a 2.5-inch format several years from now, Rydning said.
"The current technology being used today is a combination of perpendicular magnetic recording technology along with what's known as a tunnel magnetoresistive reader," he said. "The expectation is that current perpendicular magnetic recording technology will probably need to be replaced with something new around the end of this decade. It's widely expected that CPP-GMR will be the successor. That's basically to keep us on the growth curve we're on for hard disk drives."
Hitachi plans to present these achievements at the 8th Perpendicular Magnetic Recording Conference at the Tokyo International Forum in Japan on October 15 to 17.