While Hitachi, Seagate, and Western Digital collaborate on future storage technology, Toshiba has come up with a breakthrough all on its own. As PC World reports, the company has developed prototype bit-patterned media that changes how data is stored on the disk. PC World explains:
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
The article goes on to point out that, while bit-patterned media has been made before, this is the first time that the bits have been distributed in an organized fashion. Toshiba's prototype reportedly offers an areal density of 2.5 terabits per square inch, which is several times the density of the most jam-packed platters available with current technology. The company was able to gain "usable signals" from a recording head that passed over the bit-patterned media, as well.
Drives based on this new media type are still a ways off, with Toshiba aiming to have production units ready by 2013. It's unclear whether those first mass-market drives will offer a similar areal density to the existing prototype, but I'm crossing my fingers. Hard drive capacities haven't increased as rapidly in recent years, and current perpendicular recording technology is expected to top out at 1 Tb/in².