Posted by: Tony Carson | 15 October, 2007

Hard drives getting bigger and smaller

Coming to a computer near you: a hard drive that can hold terabytes.

Hitachi Ltd. says its researchers have successfully shrunken a key component in hard drives to a nanoscale that will pave the way for quadrupling today’s storage limits to 4 terabytes for desktop computers and 1 terabyte on laptops in 2011.

A terabyte can hold the text of roughly 1 million books, 250 hours of high-definition video, or a quarter million songs.

This is technology is almost clear enough for your average techno-idiot to understand:

A hard drive has a metal disk inside that spins as an arm with an electromagnetic head at its tip hovers over it. The head reads bits of data by registering the magnetic bearing of the particles on the disk.

Capacities of hard drives have grown as researchers have crammed more bits of data closer together while also making the heads sensitive enough to read the data. The industry looks to new technologies every time physical limitations kick in, and GMR — which allows for extremely thin layers of alternating metals to detect weak changes in magnetism — was one of the breakthroughs that led to the fastest growth rate in the early 2000s, allowing hard drives to double in capacity every year.

But GMR-based heads maxed out, and the industry replaced the technology in recent years with an entirely different kind of head. Yet researchers are predicting that technology will soon run into capacity problems, and now GMR is making a comeback as the next-generation successor.

“We changed the direction of the current and adjusted the materials to get good properties,” said John Best, chief technologist for Hitachi’s data-storage unit.

By doing so, Hitachi said it has created the world’s smallest disk drive heads in the 30-nanometer to 50-nanometer range, or about 2,000 times smaller than the width of an average human hair.

Other hard drive companies are working on similar technology as well, Rydning said. He predicted the entire disk drive industry will begin migrating to this new type of GMR-based technology in 2009.

The full Globe and Mail article is here: Hard drives are getting better.



  1. This may be my third post (as the first two didn’t seem to take!) so please feel free to delete posts 2 and 3 if this is so!

  2. Hmmm, maybe it was the HTML.

    Long story short, you can get a 1TB computer at Futureshop TODAY, so I just don’t find a 4TB computer that exciting. Certainly not in four years.

    If, by 2011, all we’ve managed to do is get up to 4TB computers, I’ll be very disappointed. I can buy 4 HP’s at Futureshop and cannibalize three of them to put their HDs all in one box and BOOM, a 4TB computer. Today. (It’d cost about $6500, and it’s cheating of course, as the article is talking about a single harddrive with 4TB of storage, not 4 harddrives at one TB each, but then again, I’m just talking about what I can buy off the shelf at the local Futureshop tonight, not the cutting edge of computing).

    Maybe I’ve become too accustomed to the rapid pace of computer development, but I have a feeling this is one of those articles we’ll look back at and chuckle at how quaint it was in 4 years.

    As I said, if it’s going to take them 4 years to quadruple the storage capacity of the computer I can buy off the shelf today that feels like a slowing of progress to me. I bought my current computer 4 years ago, and I can easily get a computer with 8 times the HD capacity today. Not that I bought the absolute most capacity I could have found 4 years ago, but still, you see my point.

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