Hard disk drive suppliers are looking to add platters to increase capacity because of the expensive and difficult transition to next-generation recording technology.
This is a good survey of upcoming HDD platter technologies. HAMR (Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording)and BPM (Bit Patterned Media) are the next generation after the current Perpendicular Magnetic Recording slowly hits the top end of its ability to squash together the 1’s and 0’s of a spinning hard drive platter. HAMR is like the old Floptical technology from the halls of Steve Job’s old NEXT Computer company. It uses a laser to heat the surface of the drive platter before the Read/Write head starts recording data to the drive. This ‘change’ in the state of the surface of the drive (the heat) helps align the magnetism of the bits written so that the tracks of the drive and the bits recorded inside them can be more tightly spaced. In the world of HAMR, Heat + Magnetism = bigger hard drives on the same old 3.5″ platters and 2.5″ platters we have now. With BPM, the whole drive is manufactured to hold a set number of bits and tracks in advance. Each bit is created directly on the platter as a ‘well’ with a ring of insulating material surround it. The sizes of the wells are sufficiently small and dense enough to allow a light tighter spacing than PMR. But as is often the case the new technologies aren’t ready for manufacturing. A few test samples of possible devices are out in limited or custom made engineering prototypes to test the waters.
Given the slow down in silicon CMOS chip speeds from the likes of Intel and AMD along with the wall of PMR it would appear the frontier days of desktop computing are coming to a close. Gone are the days of Megahertz wars and now Gigabyte wars waged in the labs of review sites and test labs across the Interwebs. The torrid pace of change in hardware we all experienced from the release of Windows 95 to the release this year of Windows 7 has slowed to a radical incrementalism. Intel releases so many chips with ‘slight’ variations in clock speed and cache one cannot keep up with them all. Hard drive manufacturers try to increment their disks about .5 Tbytes every 6 months but now that will stop. Flash-based SSD will be the biggest change for most of us and will help break through the inherent speed barriers enforced by SATA and spinning disk technologies. I hope a hybrid approach is used mixing SSDs and HDDs for speed and size in desktop computers. Fast things that need to be fast can use the SDD, slow things that are huge in size or quantity will go to the HDD. As for next gen disk based technologies, I’m sure there will be a change to the next higher density technology. But it will no doubt be a long time in coming.