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Breakthrough Could Increase HDD Densities 50x

Gordon Kelly


Breakthrough Could Increase HDD Densities 50x

You have to admire the survival qualities of HDDs. At this rate they'll be holding the data on the Starship Enterprise (you know we'll name a starship Enterprise one day!) as it jumps to the Milky Way...

Latest to save the hard drives from the technological scrap heap are actually two existing technologies which scientists have found can be thrown together to create vastly bigger disks.

The tech in question is Thermally-assisted Magnetic Recording (TAR) and Bit-patterned Recording (BPR). Both are complex, but in a nutshell the former heats micro areas of a drive space during the writing process and the latter isolates written data into tiny 'magnetic islands'.

Both methods are designed to avoid 'superparamagnetism' which is a troublesome by product of ever more densely filled drives whereby written data can bleed from one part of the drive to other nearby sectors corrupting their information.

The clever part are the flaws in TAR (micro heating an area with enough accuracy) and BPR (the need for very specific materials) cancel one another out because BPR makes TAR more accurate and TAR's heating preps drive areas so the specialised materials aren't required.

The result was testing which showed densities of up to 1TB per square inch (compared to the few hundred GB on today's drives) and that it has the potential to step up to 10TB per square inch. The limitation is speed with the process currently restricted to 250 megabits per second (about 30MB).

On the flip side, with TAR and BPR both known technologies, the hope is getting drives onto market that use their hybrid benefits won't take too long (though no timeframe was mentioned). To which I can only respond: 10 terabyte hard drives? Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!


Via Ars Technica


May 11, 2010, 6:31 am

Though his law maybe insignificant, Mark Kryder sheds a tear while Gordon Moore looks to wipe the smile off Bill Dally's face.


May 11, 2010, 7:40 am

I think the limit for storage might be fast approaching, and I don't mean technically, I mean in a few years, we will be able to buy storage drives where we don't live long enough to fill it up.

Imagine if you had one of those 10TB drives in your DVR. You would never ever have to delete anything on it. You could record the entire 144Mbit FreeviewHD spectrum of channels for a week straight before you filled it up. That is also 92 days (2208 hours) worth of HD recordings. Or recording a SD freeview channel non stop for 6 months. That's uncompressed! Say if you own a 1000 DVD's. If you rip those to a 10TB drive, and they were all dual layer discs, you'd still have space left for another 111 DVD's! Of course it would be awesome to have all your DVD's on a single drive, but say you can buy a 10TB drive in four or five years. What the hell are we going to put on the 100TB drive that comes along in 10 years? Store 2000 uncompressed blu-ray discs?


May 11, 2010, 8:53 am

@jopey - 4K video. 1080p's successor ;)

Geoff Richards

May 11, 2010, 11:24 am

@jopey. I like your enthusiasm. :)

Plus, I know what you mean, since I have hundreds of GB free on my current 1TB + 500GB desktop, with another 1TB drive sitting in a drawer, unused.

In terms of DVR, I think 3D TV uses a lot more space, doesn't it? Especially the glasses-free tech... I struggled to find someone to quote though. How about this: in May 2000 (10 years ago) a 40GB hard drive was US$400 (http://ns1758.ca/winch/winc... and probably seemed like "more than anyone would need for ages".

Apply the same 50x in a decade rule and you get 2000GB, or 2TB. Which I see are now under £100!!

So I'm sure we'll find something to fill 100TB with in the year 2020 :)


May 11, 2010, 11:27 am

I have over 16TB used on my media server. I dream of 10TB disks but would be happy for 3 or 4TB drives to come along soon.


May 11, 2010, 11:42 am


You must be kidding. I find a 10TB HDD the absolute minimum for an elementary everyday use and some customer satisfaction. I would fill a HDD like this in a couple of months.

Mathew White

May 11, 2010, 12:21 pm

I've got 8TB of HDDs in my Mac Pro now and will fill those up with raw footage for video projects within a couple of years... The thought of a whopping 40TB in there would be a dream! But the way video is going with HD, 3D, 4k, it won't be long before we're all dreaming of Petabyte drives to handle the data... Sadly, such things will only ever be sellable for the professional markets as most consumers will never need anything like this much storage, so the prices will probably remain astronomical.


May 11, 2010, 1:01 pm

@ gagagaga, i fully agree. Am preparing my first NAS with 4 x 2TB drives, and am concerned that it'll only last a short period before I need to upgrade.


May 11, 2010, 1:11 pm

I remember the first PC I built had a 1GB hard drive on it. At the time I couldn't possibly see any way of filling it up, given as the average game install say, was like 36mb or something.

As others have said, this may seem like a huge amount of space now, but I suspect we will soon be lamenting its constrictions. Media seems to get bigger in order to fill the avaialble space. When these come out into the mainstream, I suspect we'll see game installs go up to 100GB or more, for example.


May 11, 2010, 1:18 pm


You can never have too much storage! :)

Backing up my Blu-ray and DVD collection alone would already require FAR more than the (roughly) 3TB I have.


May 11, 2010, 1:20 pm

Wasn't the non-flying prototype space shuttle called Enterprise? They considered refitting it after Challenger.


May 11, 2010, 1:57 pm

@jopey - you're likely to get a fair bit of beratement on this and rightly so! In any age there's always a tendency to think we've reached the pinnacle technology filling our needs and as sure as night follows day, within a year or two those needs have risen ten fold.

Wasn't it Bill Gates himself who once said that 'No one will ever need more than 640Kb'......?

Geoff Richards

May 11, 2010, 3:41 pm

@Ryan - yes. Well, non-space-flight at least. It did flight testing, but for the glide-back-to-earth-after-re-entry element of the Space Shuttle's design:



May 11, 2010, 4:11 pm

Wonder how slow this ancient mechnicial disk based storage will feel compared to the 1TB super-awesome-ultra-MegaX SSD's we will be rocking by that stage. Still, I can certainly think of ways to fill a 10TB disk.

Steve 12

May 11, 2010, 5:29 pm

Just to confirm I'm a nerd, Earth is already in the Milky Way


May 11, 2010, 5:49 pm

why cant they make files smaller.....


May 11, 2010, 7:15 pm

@Dan the beratement is fine. I agree with everyone, but video compression gets better.. storage increases.. so they are getting further and further apart and eventually there'll be a void. I suppose then storage tech will move on to making the storage faster/cheaper/smaller/more reliable.

In 30 years we will all probably have a 50 petabytes in a fireproof/bomb proof/water proof (to 1000 metres) Rubik cube size device (1000 trillion MTBF) that transfers data wirelessly to anywhere in the world at a minimum of 10TB/sec. And you people will want 4 of em lol.


May 11, 2010, 8:19 pm

@jopey - you're right, I'd need at least 2. One for my 50 petabytes of 4D uber-HD movie collection; and then one for a time machine backup of it all again....!!


May 11, 2010, 9:42 pm

By the time this is available I will get a 2TB SSD for under £100!

Doc. Caliban

May 12, 2010, 1:09 am

We already know that the Enterprise uses some sort of HDD-style drives. HUGE ones. During the show you can see the access lights blinking: http://farm3.static.flickr....

So imagine how much data they can hold at these higher and higher densities yet they're still 1'x3' is size! :-)

I guess they didn't have a 'server room'.

Jay Pain

May 12, 2010, 8:37 am

Imagine backing up that data into another hard drive lol. Or with pvr's once the hard drive is dead, all of your days worth of precious recording are gone.

James Morris

May 12, 2010, 1:54 pm

This sounds a lot like Quinta Technology's Optically Assisted Winchester idea from the late 1990s.


May 12, 2010, 5:07 pm

On reflection, I reckon that no matter how big you make these future BigaJigaPetaByte drives, I'd still need 4 of them...

1 as the main server full of all my audio visual content goodness supplying all the computers, pads, TVs, holodecks in the house.

1 as the real time back up aka Timemachine.

1 as the offsite back up (electrical storm / OS failure / house fire / theft protection etc)

and 1 slimline version in my future MacbookPro so that when I leave the house I've still got all my good stuff to hand.

Hopefully, I'll get a bulk discount....


May 12, 2010, 6:05 pm

Oh come on jopey! It's not that hard to work out ways that new technology could require that kind of storage:

Think of all the pixels required for a TV image, then think of how much of your field of view a typical TV actually occupies. If we imagine a total surround display technology in high def with 3d, we're increasing the storage requirements by at least 100. Then add in a degree of true 3d interactivity, so that if I move my head to the side, I can see what's behind the actor, just like I could in the theatre. I reckon that's another order of magnitude. And that's all for stuff where we are just being told a linear story, like in a theatre.

Then think of your hooray-blu-ray extras (that's what comes after blu-ray). Not only do you get the opportunity to hear the director's commentary, but you get the opportunity to watch the film from the camera he was wearing on his head when he filmed it!








I reckon you only wrote what you did to trigger a reaction, which you got! Nice :-)

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