Toshiba claims hard-drive breakthrough

The company will unveil work in next generation drive technology later on Wednesday

Toshiba will detail a breakthrough in data storage later Wednesday that it says paves the way for hard drives with vastly higher capacity than today.

The breakthrough has been made in the research of bit-patterned media, a magnetic storage technology that is being developed for future hard disk drives. In today's drives, magnetic material is spread across the surface of the disk and bits of data are stored across several hundred magnetic grains, but the technology is reaching its limit.

Bit-patterned media breaks up the recording surface into numerous magnetic bits, each consisting of a few magnetic grains. Under a microscope, the magnetic bits look like thousands of tiny spheres crammed next to each another.

Data is stored on these magnetic bits: One magnetic bit can hold one bit of data.

Prototypes of the media have been made before but Toshiba says its engineers have, for the first time, succeeded in producing a media sample in which the magnetic bits are organized into a pattern of rows. The rows and gaps between them are important because they act as markers to where data is stored. If the disk surface consisted of an unorganized mass of magnetic bits it could be impossible to find data but the organization allows for the quick location of information.

Toshiba also said it managed to gain usable signals from a recording head that flew over the data and stopped at a data track on the media.

Details of the development will be disclosed on Wednesday at The Magnetic Recording Conference, which began on Monday in San Diego.

Toshiba's sample media is still in the prototype stage, but is built at a density equivalent to 2.5 terabits per square inch. Contrast that with Toshiba's current highest capacity drive today, which is based on existing technology and has a density of 541 gigabits per square inch or about one fifth that of the new technology.

Toshiba expects the first drives based on bit-patterned media to hit the market around 2013.

Martyn Williams covers Japan and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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