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Drive makers gear up for HAMR

Posted: 13 Oct 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:hard disk drive? HAMR? bit-patterned media?

Hard disk drive makers have long argued over the future of their road map. Some makers, led by Seagate Technology LLC, lobbied for heat-assisted recording (HAMR) technology. Others on the other hand, such as Hitachi GST, called for bit-patterned media. Early this year the two sides in the road map debate quietly converged on HAMR as their next step. And now, drive makers are preparing for a generational shift to HAMR.

Both HAMR and bit-patterned media aim to deliver drives that could pack multiple terabits of data on a square inch of disk space. Today's perpendicular recording techniques are expected to run out of gas at an aerial density of 1 to 1.5 terbaits per square inch.

Toshiba Corp. claims that it has found a way to use perpendicular recording to pack a terabit of information on a square inch of disk. The company will demo 2.5-inch drives with 500GB platters at that density at the Diskon event, which will be held next week.

"There's a general consensus the huge shift beyond perpendicular is at least three years out, so mainstream products won't ship until 2014 or 2015," said Mark Geenen, president of The International Disk Drive Equipment and Materials Association (IDEMA), the disk drive trade group and host of Diskcon.

"Sometime before that!as early as 2013!companies may do a soft launch of the new technology to test it out in a less grueling areal density environment!it's typical one or two companies will do it earlier than necessary," Geenen said.

Over the next year or two, drive makers are expected to use shingle magnetic recording, a variant of perpendicular, to push aerial density to or slightly beyond a terabit.

"But the big shift appears to be a consensus on heat assisted being first and in the future moving to bit patterning!it's a pretty big set of challenges," he said.

HAMR's challenges include finding the right recording materials, then solving a range of engineering challenges such as how to integrate laser diodes and recording heads. The technique uses the diodes to briefly heat a tiny area on the disk so its data can be read.

While difficult to engineer, it is now seen as a clearly easier step than the main alternative!patterning multiple terabits of data uniformly on a platter. Proponents have yet to demonstrate ways to cover a full disk with tiny magnetic dots in a way that can be mass produced and adds no more than two dollars to the cost of a disk.

Patterned media is believed to require billions of dollars in new capital equipment. "It isn't even on the radar" for drive makers today, Geenen said.

However, patterned media is expected to make a comeback when HAMR runs out of gas. But that may not be until 2020 or beyond when drive makers are at an aerial density measured in multiple terabits, Geenen said.

Last year, drive makers formed the Advanced Storage Technology Consortium (ASTC) to pool resources needed to make the generational leap beyond perpendicular recording. The 13-member group is led by Hitachi GST, Marvell, Seagate and Western Digital.

In July the group started funding pre-competitive research at universities and institutes, mainly on HAMR though some money is going to patterning work, too. The group has not disclosed its budget, but it is measured in "several million dollars," Geenen said.

ASTC is expected to expand eventually into other efforts such as industrial research.

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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