Like processors, RAM, graphics cards and just about anything else inside a PC, hard drives seem to raise the benchmark nearly every month. But with the latest jump to half a terabyte (we might as well start getting used to that word), it looks like there will have to be new recording technology pretty soon if it is to keep on going.
The manufacturer to announce the drive and offer up a glimpse of the future is Hitachi. Let's deal with the here and now first.
To reach 500GB, Hitachi has managed to squeeeeeze five 100GB platters into the drive which it believes should be enough for 56 hours of HDTV depending on compression rates. This sort of size is beginning to reach the capacity of some lower end back-up solutions!
Importantly, the new $520 Deskstar also debuts SATA II which doubles the 1.5 gigabits per second speed of SATA to 3Gbps. SATA II has the benefit of being backwards compatible and if you got for this option the drive comes with a large 16MB buffer. If you don’t have any form of SATA support, now might be a good time to consider an upgrade because though Hitachi will be releasing a parallel ATA version it only has an 8MB buffer and costs just $20 less. Expect it to be in stores before the end of April.
So to the future. On the back of this HDD, Hitachi has begun to pipe up about the future of storage technology. The problem is the current system called "longitudinal recording" is running out of headroom. Longitudinal recording works by writing data tracks in concentric circles using particles magnetized horizontally on the surface of the disk. Thing is, when drives reach over one terabyte (possibly just 12 months away), longitudinal recording hits its limit and data becomes unstable. This is known as the “Superparamagnetic Limit”.
To combat this Hitachi has today fleshed out "Perpendicular recording" which, in essence, gets around the superparamagnetic limit by magnetizing particles vertically. The dual benefit is more bits can packed at greater density onto a disk and magnetic interference is reduced.
Excitingly, Hitachi has revealed we can expect the first perpendicular drives before the end of the year. It will initially concentrate on 2.5in notebook and 1.8in portable drives as they are more constrained by capacity. To show off the potential of perpendicular recording, Hitachi says it should easily be able to fit 20GB into a iPod mini. Sorted.
All the other storage manufacturers will be jumping on this new technology as well, Hitachi just beat them to the punch with today's announcement. The real kicker: drives based on perpendicular recording will be compatible with existing motherboards.
So can we expect drive capacity to explode as the industry switches over to perpendicular recording? According to Hitachi, yes!
If you want a truly hilarious cartoon explanation of perpendicular technology check out this animation from Hitachi here. It's well worth it! Thanks for the tip-off Chris.