Toshiba said Wednesday that it had made a breakthrough in hard disk design that will allow hard drives to have much higher capacities than what is currently possible today. The research is in something called bit-patterned media, a magnetic storage technology.
The recording surface is broken up into tiny magnetic bits, each of which can hold a single bit of data. The bits are made up of several grains, which are organized in rows. This organization is what makes it possible for data to be found easily.
Current technologies require the data to be spread across a broader section of the disk, requiring hundreds of magnetic grains to store bits of data. However this technology is reaching its upper limits, requiring drive manufacturers to look for new ways to store data.
Bit-patterned drives could hold some 2.5 terabits of data on every square inch of recordable space. Contrast this with the highest densities that Toshiba has currently been able to squeeze out of current technologies — 541 gigabits — and the company’s breakthrough seems even more stunning.
Such a breakthrough would mean a current standard 3.5-inch HDD could hold at least 8 terabytes of data, far above the current limits of 2 and 3 terabytes. The technology is still a good ways off though: Toshiba doesn’t expect the drives to hit the market until 2013.
A lot of work still remains. The company has yet to be able to read or write data to the prototype drives it has made, although it has been able to detect a track. That track detection is important though: it is the first step towards making the technology usable.
The announcement was made at the Magnetic Recording Conference, underway this week in San Diego. While Toshiba’s competitors, such as Seagate and Western Digital, are working on bit-patterned drives, they claim the technology is far from becoming a standard.
Instead, those companies are working on competing technologies, such as single magnetic recording and heat-assisted magnetic recording — despite the fact that there too questions remain as to their viability and cost-effectiveness.