New research from York University paves the way for faster hard drives in the same form factor
By Steven Farkas, February 12th 2012
There's a good chance that you are reading this article with a notebook computer on your lap, feeling some degree of discomfort from the hot air that is being driven out by the cooling fans in order to keep those silicon components inside nice and cool. The cooling of IT hardware, if you'll allow me the pun, has long been a hot topic in the IT world (a quick search for IT cooling white papers brings up a litany of results here). One of the most well known (and amusing) examples of this was in 2002 where a man suffered quite serious burns to his 'private area' after using a notebook computer resting on his lap for approximately one hour (Click here for the full story). This both disturbed and shocked me in equal measures. Let's face it, the man did burn his private parts, and a notebook battery from 2002 lasting for an hour? Really?
Putting the foolishness of some computer users to the side for a moment, all this does have a point. A team of scientists from York University have made a discovery that could have heat being used in a positive way inside our personal computers. In a recent paper published in Nature Communications (1) by T.A. Ostler, et. al., it has been demonstrated that magnetisation reversal is possible using heat and without the application of an external magnetic field (which was previously thought to be a necessary ingredient to achieve this). In addition, this happens at room temperature, possibly paving the way for data writing technologies that negate the need for the inductive write head, which is currently a bottleneck experienced by almost all current commercial hard disk technology (figure 1).
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Current hard drive technology is limited by two things, the speed of the actuator arm to move the read/write heads across the relevant sectors on the drive platter and by the physical surface area of the platter itself as there is a finite number of bytes that can be stored per inch.
This research does not address the second issue (as that is a matter of physics) but it does deal with the speed issue in quite a spectacular way. As the magnetisation occurs as a result of a thermal pulse, and with no magnetic field, it could result in terabytes of data being written in seconds; 100's of times faster than current technology. An added benefit is, without the need for a magnetic field, the energy consumption is also much lower.
The industry is slowly moving its standard from 512b to 4kb sectors, which helps address the second problem as it allows for 2000 times more data to be written per inch, which could result in increased drive capacities within the same form factor (for more, read the Seagate 4k transition White Paper).
It is also widely acknowledged that heat can assist the magnetisation process, and this is already being incorporated in some hard drive technology today ( for more click here), but this is the first time that magnetisation reversal has been demonstrated using only thermal pulses and without an external magnetic field. This opens up many future applications, including larger capacity, low energy consuming hard drives, with read/write performance at a level we've previously not thought possible.