SSDs have been the talk of the storage industry for some time. What are mechanical hard drives to do to get back in the news? Two words: frickin' lasers. A group of researchers from half a dozen different countries has managed to flip bits on magnetic media with a laser rather than the magnetic field used in traditional hard drives.
As Physorg explains, the heat generated by the laser causes the magnetic orientation of "nano islands" to change in the material. The laser pulse lasts 60 femtoseconds (60 millionths of a nanosecond), and the orientation change is complete within five picoseconds (five thousandths of a nanosecond). The researchers claim this method can write terabytes of data per second and, because there's no magnetic field involved, the process is purportedly more power-efficient than traditional recording methods.
Like most new discoveries, this one is probably a long way from commercial applications. There's no mention of whether lasers could be used to quickly read data from the disk or what sort of bit densities might be achieved. Still, it's nice to see new breakthroughs promising substantially improved performance for magnetic media, which is likely to remain much cheaper per gigabyte than solid-state storage for the forseeable future. Nature has the full paper detailing the discovery, but you'll need an account to read beyond the abstract. Thanks to Slashdot for the tip.