HGST claims double-density hard drive breakthrough

March 1, 2013 // 6:27 p.m.

Tags: #block-copolymers #currie-munce #hard-drive #hgst #magnetic-media #nanoimprinting #nanolithography #nanotechnology #storage #western-digital

Western Digital subsidiary HGST, the storage giant formerly known as Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, has announced a breakthrough in its nanolithography process that will lead the way to spinning-platter hard disks with double the data density of today's models.

Combining two existing nanotechnologies - the concept of self-assembling molecules and nanoimprinting technology - the company has been able to create large areas of densely-packed magnetic 'islands' only 10 nanometres, or around 50 atoms, wide. That's a serious breakthrough: using the concept of patterned media, which stores data in individual uniformly-printed magnetic cells rather than across numerous grains of a traditional magnetic coating, a drive using HGST's new nanolithographic process would potentially offer at least double the areal density of today's best drives.

For magnetic media, that's important: traditional spinning-platter drives have long lost the performance war to solid-state drives (SSDs,) and as the price of the latter continues to drop it will become increasingly rare for users to pick a traditional drive as their boot device. Instead, hard drives will likely become relegated to mass-storage devices where their key advantage - a dramatic price differential for terabyte and larger drives over the far more expensive large-capacity SSDs on the market today - can be exploited. A technology that doubles this capacity in the same form factor as today's drives, then, is key to the technology's future.

'As creators of the original hard disk drive, we are proud to continue our heritage of innovation with today's nanotechnology advance,' crowed Currie Munce, vice president of HGST's research arm, at the announcement. 'The emerging techniques of self-assembling molecules and nanoimprinting utilised at the HGST Labs will have an enormous impact on nanoscale manufacturing, enabling bit-patterned media to become a cost-effective means of increasing data densities in magnetic hard disk drives before the end of the decade.'

The announcement expands on work done by HGST on self-assembling block copolymers, which can be printed onto a surface and then assemble themselves into the uniform array required of patterned media on a master nanolithographic plate ready for imprinting on magnetic platters. The technology isn't quite ready for commercial exploitation, however: the challenge lies in how to prepare the original surface in order to allow the block copolymers to assemble themselves in the very specific radial and circular paths required of a spinning-platter hard drive - something HGST claims to have solved using a combination of line-doubling and nanoimprinting.

The result still isn't production-ready, however. The company has admitted that today's announcement provides 'a roadmap for how to cost-effectively create the magnetic islands at densities much beyond today's capabilities,' but admits that it will likely be towards the end of the decade before its first double-capacity bit-pattern hard drives roll off the production lines.

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