August 23, 2006 9:22 AM PDT

A divide over the future of hard drives

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By contrast, the patterned media group wants to keep the current grains. It proposes, instead, reducing the number of grains in each bit from 100 to one, and then isolating the bits from each other to reduce cross-talk and the risk of data corruption, Best said. Initially, the grains in the first patterned media drives would be larger than the grains in today's drives, but the overall size of the bit would be smaller.

"With this, you can get a factor of 100 in increase in density. Of course, you have to scale everything else, so it will take time. But the problem of the temperature of the room reversing magnetization goes away," Best said.

So how do you create a pattern? A master pattern could be drawn with e-beam lithography. That pattern could then be transferred to a mold, which would then be used to stamp out the pattern on hard drive platters though imprint lithography.

Adopting e-beam and imprint lithography into mass manufacturing won't be easy. In fact, patterned media hard drives could easily become the first widescale application for both, Best said.

"The good news is that you have people working in both of these camps, and maybe others. There's nano-this and nano-that."
--Jim Porter, president, Disk/Trend

E-beam, which creates a pattern by firing electrons, was invented years ago to replace traditional lithography in chipmaking, but it never did. Imprint lithography, which makes an impression like that on a signet ring, was only developed in the last few years.

However, lithography of any kind is expensive, particularly when compared to the film-coating processes used today. "We don't have to personalize each bit by patterning it lithographically," Kryder noted, referring to the heat-assisted technique.

Both camps have published papers and lab results, but no one is close to having manufacturing samples. Hitachi, for instance, has created prototype components, but not complete patterned media drives.

Ultimately, the decision could turn on which technology looks easier to bring to mass manufacturing. This year, around 450 million to 460 million drives will leave factories, according to data from Disk/Trend.

"You've got to figure out how to do this, not just in a lab demonstration, but by producing them in the hundreds of millions," said Porter of Disk/Trend. "The good news is that you have people working in both of these camps, and maybe others. There's nano-this and nano-that."

No matter which goes first, the end is not near. Hard drive makers are even examining new materials that could take the grain size below 8 nanometers, although the current candidates are corrosive.

"We can see 50 to 100 terabits being possible," Kryder said. "We are three orders of magnitude from any truly fundamental limits."

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9 comments

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Spinning drives on the way out
Solid state, non-spinning storage media is the way of the future. Seagate and Hitachi would be well-advised to recognize this trend and plan accordingly. In another 7-10 years spinning HDD will have gone the way of the 8-inch floppy disk.
Posted by Des Alba (68 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hows that?
I can buy a 200Gb disk for £60 or 1GB for £30.

Static memory devices have a long way to go to catch up with the advantages of hard disks at the moment.

And don't forget that HDs already have built in redundancy in the way of spare sectors per track, spare tracks to replace faulty ones, plus the ability to reformat and ignore bad areas. Add this to the cost per Gb and they're still way ahead in my book.

Of coure thay're far more susceptible to damage in motion etc, so I would expect to see most personal gadgets to go static mem. Not in my PC just yet though.
Posted by pj-mckay (161 comments )
Link Flag
I wonder if any of these technologies will be fault-tolerant
Meaning, I'd rather buy a 400GB harddrive that is only 200GB mirrored internally than have to mirror two separate 200GB harddrives myself. Once a half drive of the 400GB goes bad, though, you could retire it for non-critical tasks such as external storage etc.

In other words ... how do you RAID a laptop harddrive today...? You can't (easily)!
Posted by Fictia (32 comments )
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Fault tollerance
I think the biggest problem is with moving parts and the best way to get rid of that is flash rom. It might be limited now in its compacity, but I can buy a 4 gb SD card for like $60 or so. If you had the size of a 2.5 inch bay to store memory in flash I think you'd be in the range of 100gb or more all without moving parts.
Heck, if you want a "plan b" have the user carry a 2gb USB stick with a stripped down WINXP install. Then make sure the system can boot USB. At least on the road the laptop wouldn't be useless because of a hard drive failure.
Jake
Posted by Jakesty (10 comments )
Link Flag
I'll wait
Heating particles? This sounds even dodgier than the DeathStar
which is the only HD I've ever had fail on me.

Think I'll wait for it to prove itself mature first...
Posted by tonyspencer2 (7 comments )
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Why not 5-1/4" media?
The access may be slower, but for movies written sequentially or on a defragged drive it seems like it would work. There's plenty of 5-1/4" bays out there for CD/DVD. It seems this would help stave off technology issues too.
Posted by kovacsbv (1 comment )
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For speed-Why not flash/HD combo
If speed were the only problem, why not write to flash which then would write to the HD. Of course, God willing it appears with lasers speed may be greatly increased anyway. (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/Laser+innovation+speeds+up+hard+disks/2100-1008_3-6194970.html?tag=nefd.top" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/Laser+innovation+speeds+up+hard+disks/2100-1008_3-6194970.html?tag=nefd.top</a>).

If this is the case, wouldn't liquid cooled type cases may be needed or helpful?
Posted by peacebyjesus.com (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
For speed-Why not flash/HD combo
If speed were the only problem, why not write to flash which then would write to the HD. Of course, God willing it appears with lasers speed may be greatly increased anyway. (<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://news.cbsi.com/Laser+innovation+speeds+up+hard+disks/2100-1008_3-6194970.html?tag=nefd.top" target="_newWindow">http://news.cbsi.com/Laser+innovation+speeds+up+hard+disks/2100-1008_3-6194970.html?tag=nefd.top</a>).

If this is the case, wouldn't liquid cooled type cases be needed or helpful?
Posted by peacebyjesus.com (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Who would have thought that "no more shrinkage" would be a problem?

- C
Posted by possumdelight (1 comment )
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