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SuperparaMagnetic Effect - Hard Drive Storage Technology
SuperparaMagnetic Effect - Hard Drive Storage Technology
Abstract: Of all computer components, probably the greatest rate of evolution belongs to the stalwart hard drive, but something called superparamagnetic effect may soon bring an end to this golden age.

 Company link  Category  Published  Author 
Seagate   Editorial   Jul 21, 2000   Max Page  
Home > Reviews > Page Title: Looking into the Future with Hard metals

Currently, most hard drives are capable of holding up to about 35 bits per square inch of platter space. As that number rises, SPE's onset looms. Recent developments at IBM mean that disks should be able to hold up to 150 bits per square inch before succumbing to SPE; but even so, the effect could strike as early as 2005.

In other words, the smaller the bit, the more information your computer can store -- but the less stable that information is. How to solve the problem? There are a number of approaches currently being taken by researchers. None of them has yet reached the commercial stage, but it's worth keeping an eye on the competing developments, because one of them will eventually be taking up space in your own PC.

1. The Magnetic Disk Drive: Hard Metals

Currently, read-write heads score information onto spinning platters by altering the texture of their magnetic coatings. The malleability of the coating makes it ideal for the job; but this softness also renders it vulnerable to SPE. If the platter's coating were to be made of a harder substance, it would be less susceptible to bit-flips as temperatures rise.

Researchers are currently experimenting with different elements that would not succumb to SPE. The only drawback with such hard metals is their resistance to being "written on." Lasers must first heat the coating to prepare it for branding by read-write heads. As you might expect, lasers complicate things considerably. So far, no one has been able to come up with lasers precise enough to avoid hitting adjacent bits and causing more damage than SPE itself. Seagate is currently developing technology to solve this problem, involving platters that could hold up to 1,000 gigs per square inch. This might be commercially available in four years, but at present the company is mum on the technology's juicy details.

  1. The Magnetic Disk Drive: Patterned Media

    If the problem of SPE rests in bits that interfere with each other's orientations, why not divide and conquer them? The patterned media solution theorizes that bits won't be corrupted if barriers are placed between them. These barriers have been dubbed "mesas and valleys," with each raised mesa containing one bit of information. The theory also postulates that patterned media could further increase memory efficiency. Each bit could occupy only one grain of magnetic material, as opposed to the 500 to 1,000 grains that bits currently occupy. Of course, such radical changes to the surface of the platter would necessitate corresponding changes to the design of read-write heads. For this reason, researches don't expect to make commercially viable breakthroughs in patterned media for a few years yet.

  2. Holographic Storage

    Holographic storage represents a revolutionary shift from magnetic technologies. While it is not yet remotely close to practicable, the promise of higher storage capacities and speeds continues to fuel research in this area. Holographic processes would enable computers to store the contents of entire libraries on single disks the size of your fingertip. How is this possible? Holographic laser beams are fast, and immune to inertia. This means they can access information at fractions of the conventional, magnetic speed. Roughly speaking, the technology works with two laser beams that shine through each other. These cross-lasers create a particular pattern that is then recorded by a photosensitive material. To retrieve this information, only one of the original beams is needed to shine through the recorded pattern and automatically reproduce the second original beam. And hey presto! within that second original beam resides the original recorded data. It's like data retrieval without any actually retrieval, since the system relies on optical comparisons of information (rather than data that's stored in different addresses and requires separate access for each comparison). At the moment, research seems to be branching into two distinct areas of this field: development of high-capacity holographic systems, and development of super-fast holographic systems. And you can bet your bottom dollar there's a market for both.

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    Table of Contents:

     1:  SuperparaMagnetic Effect - Hard Drive Storage Technology
     2: — Looking into the Future with Hard metals
     3:  Atomic Resolution Storage and more

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