Seagate hits terabit areal density milestone

Right now, the platters in Seagate’s Barracuda 3TB hard drive pack 620 gigabits into every square inch of surface area. That areal density is high enough to squeeze an entire terabyte onto each platter, but it’s nothing compared to what Seagate has come up with in its labs. The company is trumpeting a “technology demonstration” that achieves an areal density of one terabit per square inch. Impressive.

How did Seagate manage such a substantial increase in areal density? Frickin’ lasers. Seriously. The tech demo relied on heat-assisted magnetic recording technology (HAMR), which employs ultra-precise lasers to flip bits on the platter. The press release provides few details on the specifics of the implementation, but HAMR is something Seagate has been working on since at least 2006. Although there’s no timeline for when the technology will be ready for mass consumption, the perpendicular recording technology currently used by hard drive makers is expected to run out of steam near the 1Tb/in² threshold.

In addition to enabling higher bit densities, HAMR has been associated with faster write performance. Using lasers to flip bits is apparently faster than the traditional magnetic approach, although a magnetic head is still required to read the data once it’s been written. As far as we know, lasers can’t take part in the read process.

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    • WarriorProphet
    • 11 years ago

    Oh I dunno, I have had just as many 7200.11s fail as Samsung Spinpoint F1s and WD blues in laptops, I think the crop of drives around that time had issues all the way around, except maybe WD blacks…those were the days when almost everyone dropped their warranties into the toilet, after all. Had to be a reason for that.

    • jwilliams
    • 11 years ago

    No, he said 1.25TB, not 1.25Tb. So he is assuming about 10in^2. I think that may be a little off, though. The Seagate HDDs with 1TB platters are said to have 0.62 Tb/in^2 density, which comes to 12.9 in^2. But those 1TB platters use both sides, so that is about 6.5 in^2 per side.

    If I had to guess without the above numbers being available to me, I would guess a usable radius of 1.7″ max (assuming 0.05″ unused at the edge), and a minimum storage-usable radius of half that, 0.85″. That comes to a usable area of 6.8 in^2 per side. Which is reasonably close to what I computed above.

    Anyway, at 1Tb/in^2, a 3.5″ double-sided platter should hold about 1.6TB. I guess the next generation platters will be about 1.5TB, so you could have a 4-platter 6TB HDD.

    • sreams
    • 11 years ago

    So your saying a 3.5-inch platter has only 1.25 square inches of area?

    • CB5000
    • 11 years ago

    They say that they can take it up to 5-10 terabits per sq inch leading to 3.5 inch drives with capacities of 30-60 TB.

    • jwilliams
    • 11 years ago

    You’re correct. You can see it better in the picture of the read/write head here:

    [url<]http://storageeffect.media.seagate.com/2012/03/storage-effect/paving-the-way-for-big-hard-drive-capacity-gains/[/url<] [url<]http://storageeffect.media.seagate.com/files/2012/03/perphamr2.gif[/url<] There is a hole in the read/write head that the laser shines through to transmit the heat directly to the platter. The basic idea of heat-ASSISTED magnetic recording (HAMR) is that the laser provides a more tightly focused spot than the magnetic field from the write head can provide. Also, when the platter is heated, it does not require as strong a magnetic field to flip a bit. So, the HAMR write head is similar to the write head on current HDDs, except with a weaker magnetic field, and a hole for the laser beam to shine through. The laser provides a more precise position for the bit flip, since a laser can be focused to a much smaller spot than a magnetic field.

    • helix
    • 11 years ago

    Yes, the area heated by the laser gets more sensitive to the writing magnetic field than the non-heated area. It is heat assisted writing. I don’t think you can write only with a laser. But with a laser you can use a weaker magnetic field to write.

    (Please correct me if I’m wrong. Don’t have time to read the sources right now.)

    • Grigory
    • 11 years ago

    You’re mixing up technologies.

    • BobbinThreadbare
    • 11 years ago

    You read your optical disks with a copper wire?

    • TO11MTM
    • 11 years ago

    It’s probably going to be more affordable than it sounds at first glance; Lasers have been used in Magneto-optical drives for years; Minidisc especially comes to mind for it’s high density (at the time.)

    Lasers aren’t all that expensive once they figure out how to mass produce them, CD, DVD, Blu-Ray all use lasers that at first were expensive…

    • Chrispy_
    • 11 years ago

    “Lasers” sounds nice and affordable

    Which is why we’re all using copper interconnects still.

    • Parallax
    • 11 years ago

    Current drives have up to 1TB per platter. At 1Tb/in[super<]2[/super<] this new method puts a single platter at ~1.25TB, so not that much greater. Hopefully the potential is there for further increases though.

    • Madman
    • 11 years ago

    I know, but specialised hardware doesn’t have the noise problem he’s complaining about. Embedded hardware, disk drives and a small cooler in noise tight case.

    • Krogoth
    • 11 years ago

    NAS is similar to a file server. The only difference is that NAS is typically headless, uses a barebones OS and only needs a network connection/power to do administration.

    • Krogoth
    • 11 years ago

    HDDs aren’t dead.

    They are still the king in terms of capacity, speed, reliability and cost. There is nothing on the market that comes close.

    SSDs fall behind on reliability, cost and capacity. SSD’s primary advantage has always been speed, but not everything needs the speed of SSD. (games, multimedia, archives)

    For mainstream and gaming systems. SSDs only make sense as system/swap drives, while HDDs are used to store bulk data and applications that do not demand high I/O performance.

    • ShadowTiger
    • 11 years ago

    This is intersting but how much further than 1 tb/inch can they go with lasers? Will it take us to 1000 tb/inch?

    • clone
    • 11 years ago

    I doubt price will be a problem no more than die shrinks have radically increased the cost of cpu’s over the past decade.

    • clone
    • 11 years ago

    cheap ram, superfetch and standby make HDD’s more than adequate.

    I still use both and don’t mind either although I’d like to see SSD prices drop to $0.50 per gb.

    • LiquidSpace
    • 11 years ago

    plus +10 to you amigo

    • Draphius
    • 11 years ago

    i agree. after using a few ssd’s i can tell u they definetly arent where they need to be to replace mechanical hard drives. once they work those kinks out though i dont see mechanical harddrives sticking around too long. i give em a decade max.

    • ronch
    • 11 years ago

    Long live mechanical hard drives! Having a fast SSD as your system drive and a high capacity mech hard drive for your data is really the way to go until SSDs reach price parity with mechs in terms of GB/$ as well as capascity points.

    • bcronce
    • 11 years ago

    ^ THIS

    • bcronce
    • 11 years ago

    NAS is just a file server. A file server is a NAS. He already has a NAS.

    I’m assuming what you mean is a pre-built mini-nas.

    ZFS or go home. Most pre-made NAS boxes with a proper high speed ZFS setup are starting in the $6k range. Much cheaper to build you own.

    • bcronce
    • 11 years ago

    GL making an “affordable” multi-terabyte triple mirror file storage using SSDs.

    • Farting Bob
    • 11 years ago

    Yea, because i absolutely must fully saturate my SATA3 connection when playing music on my PC or watching a movie. No HDD could ever be good enough for that!

    Here is a shock for you: HDD’s and SSD’s should live together, because they both have huge advantages in different (and both very common) scenarios that arent going to change in the next 5-10 years. SSD’s offer great speed, but their very high price means it is pointless getting them for general storage. HDD’s offer great capacity, but its speed (particularly random read/write and IOPS) will often be the limiting factor of your PC.

    A sensible person would use a combination of both if finances allow.

    • crabjokeman
    • 11 years ago

    Don’t forget the [i<]Too Legit to Quit[/i<] warranty.

    • Airmantharp
    • 11 years ago

    It seemed that everything after the 7200.10’s went into the crapper- they became louder, hotter, and more failure prone.

    I’d love to like Seagate, and I still have 7200.10’s that work, but a quick perusal through Newegg listings still pushes me towards WD for spinning disks.

    • crabjokeman
    • 11 years ago

    My issue with recent Seagates has been noise/vibration. That’s why I switched to Samsung (but now they’re bought out by Seagate). That would piss me off if I didn’t already have spare hard disks.

    • SPOOFE
    • 11 years ago

    I very much care how much density it has. Mechanical HDD’s are the only option for me. Robust proven technology that hasn’t seen any alternative for massive storage in years. Fast enough for almost anything most people need guaranteed.

    • boing
    • 11 years ago

    Didn’t know that. Thanks 🙂

    • UberGerbil
    • 11 years ago

    That’s true for you, and for many folks’ desktop computers, but the world is bigger than that. There a lots of storage tasks where HD speed is more than adequate, and the capacity / price of spinning atoms won’t be exceeded for quite a while. Do you think all the “cloud” storage is solid state? Or needs to be, any time soon?

    • gmskking
    • 11 years ago

    IDC how much density it has. Mechanical HDD’s are dead to me. Old technology that needed replaced years ago. Slowest part in anyone’s PC almost guaranteed.

    • eofpi
    • 11 years ago

    Writing requires creating a magnetic field. At these densities, the inverse-square law means that you may accidentally corrupt data in adjacent tracks or sectors if you write magnetically. With a laser, you can point it at exactly the track and sector you want to (re)write without any spillover onto adjacent tracks.

    Reading, however, just requires detecting magnetic fields. Any interference from nearby tracks can be minimized by only reading the strongest signal from the head and discarding the rest. There may also be head design trickery that can minimize detection of adjacent tracks’ fields.

    • UberGerbil
    • 11 years ago

    And the platter says to the head: [i<]can't touch this[/i<].

    • UberGerbil
    • 11 years ago

    You’re going for Samsung? You realize that’s [url=http://www.seagate.com/ww/v/index.jsp?name=seagate-completes-aquisition-samsungs-hdd-business-pr&vgnextoid=b201b5c033854310VgnVCM1000001a48090aRCRD<]now Seagate[/url<]?

    • Bensam123
    • 11 years ago

    I remember hearing about such tech on /. years ago, but those are usually one of those things you hear about that don’t come to frutation for a really long time, it’s good hearing about it again. I wonder how long it’ll take before Seagate actually has a production model or if this is just them gaining some much needed publicity.

    From what I remember there was a way to read the bits with a laser too, so it makes me wonder if they only got one portion of the technology working at the moment (which would more then likely put this closer to a working model rather then a tech demo).

    I also have to question how such technology would affect the reliability of the drives. Does it actually burn parts of the drive (like a record) or does the laser somehow affect magnetic fields?

    Still it’s really cool to find out Seagate is still trying, their hybrid and take on SSD tech has been less then illuminating. :l

    • Madman
    • 11 years ago

    Use NAS, they are quiet and can be located anywhere where you can run power and 1gbps cat 5e+ cable.

    • Madman
    • 11 years ago

    No issues with Seagate drives for more than 10 years. Multiple drives for PC, backup and NAS. All of them quiet, and good.

    Only the laptop drive has some relocated sectors.

    • Farting Bob
    • 11 years ago

    I must have forgotten that second verse.

    • Madman
    • 11 years ago

    Assert write head movement, recalibrate depending on heat/movement, calculate crc, write crc, validate write, validate state, update SMART, etc, etc, etc.

    • CasbahBoy
    • 11 years ago

    We can fit as much data right now in products currently on the market in one square millimeter as we could fit on an entire multiple platter disk drive back in 1990.

    • Ryhadar
    • 11 years ago

    I’d like to think that the firmware instructions for writing to the drive look something like this:

    1. Navigate to bit
    2. Stop
    3. HAMR_time(bool var)

    • derFunkenstein
    • 11 years ago

    Indeed he probably does but I do agree with his sentiment.

    • boing
    • 11 years ago

    Seagate is first on the market with many things. 3.5″ drives with perpendicular storage, the platter density race, larger drives.. too bad their harddrives have an extremely bad history of breaking down for me. Back when I worked in IT in 2002-2003 we bought 12 desktop PC’s with Seagate drives. 7 of them stopped working within a year. I’ve owned 3 Seagate drives since and all of them stopped working in a fairly short amount of time (fair enough, the last one lasted almost 3 years).

    Sorry Seagate, I wish you’d get your fudge together. I really do. Until then, I’m going for WD or Samsung. I’ve used them all: Green, black, blue with no issues 5+ years.

    • smilingcrow
    • 11 years ago

    You just can’t touch a Frickin’ laser HDD on pricing.

    • kumori
    • 11 years ago

    I think you mean Thailand

    • TrptJim
    • 11 years ago

    Speaking as a layman, it would seem that writing would be a limiting factor as it will be flipping bits on the platter. Reading doesn’t change the contents of the drive so should be easier, yes?

    • Hattig
    • 11 years ago

    I think most of us just want the prices to drop back down to where they would be if Taiwan hadn’t decided to go for a swim!

    Still, 2TB 2.5″ drives sounds good to me, and the porn collectors will surely appreciate the 6TB 3.5″ device.

    • Farting Bob
    • 11 years ago

    Cool. More capacity is always welcome. My fileserver is currently at 8TB and since i have backups of everything, im going to be hitting the wall soon in terms of storage. 3TB drives arent actually much more expensive than they were 6 months ago, so might have to pick up one. I dont like to have more than 3 or 4 HDD’s as my fileserver is in my bedroom and makes a bit of a noise (possibly due to the cheap case vibrating), so 4TB or more per drive would be awesome, and it has been a while since we were treated to a new round of high capacity drives.

    • flip-mode
    • 11 years ago

    HAMR time and an Austin Powers quote in one press release. This beats all.

    • DPete27
    • 11 years ago

    Well.. the areal density increase is impressive. The price will probably be less attractive. Another question: if that density is so tight that it requires a laser to write on the platter.. then how can a magnetic head still read from it?

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