Toshiba's terabit per square inch technology

Researchers have found a read head drive technology that could increase areal density five hundred percent

Toshiba and Tohoku University researchers have found a read head drive technology that could increase areal density five hundred percent. It could mean a 5TB 3.5-inch drive or a 1TB 2-5-inch drive, both by 2013. The highest areal density of any shipping disk drive product is 178.8Gbit/sq inch. The new technology could push this to 1Tbit/sq inch and beyond.

The technology is called Nanocontact Magnetic Resistance (NC-MR). It increases the magneto-resistance of a drive head two fold meaning the head's ability to detect magnetic field changes is increased. The relatively huge difference in magneto-resistance is achieved by having two magnetic materials located very close together and linking by a contact point around 1 nanometer thick at its narrowest point.

This means that heads can become smaller and detect or write smaller magnetized areas on the drive surface. These smaller area can be packed closer together thus increasing the number of them and the amount of data that can be stored on the drive.

Toshiba, Seagate and other drive suppliers have used vertically-oriented magnetic fields, so-called perpendicular recording, to reach the 150Gbit/sq inch and beyond areal density levels of currently shipping drives.

It had been thought that heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) would be needed to enable area density beyond the 1Tbit/sq inch level. Seagate has suggested that perpendicular recording could be pushed to 1Tbit/sq inch and then HAMR could take us as far as 50Tbit/sq inch by 2019, meaning a 40-50TB 2.5-inch hard drive would be theoretically possible.

Fujitsu has advised that advanced lubrication could enable read/write heads to be much closer to the drive surface, 2 nanometers in fact, and this would increase their ability to read and write magnetic signals to achieve a 1Tbit/sq inch areal density by 2010.

A 400GB drive can be bought for £80 (US$156) today in the U.K.'s PC World. It's probable that, by 2013, a 2TB drive, were it available, would cost the same amount.

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Chris Mellor
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