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It is difficult to imagine a world without hard drives. As storage needs rise, vendors are coming up with new innovations to meet the seemingly insatiable demands of consumers.
They are in everything—from cell phones and media players to set-top box video recorders, not to mention desktops, notebooks and enterprise storage devices. The hard disk drive (HDD) has come a long way since it was first introduced. Today, a 2.5-inch (6.35 cm) drive offers 750 GB of storage space, compared to the 24-inch (61 cm) IBM RAMAC that offered only 5 MB of storage. And in our storage-hungry universe of digital downloads and digital photography, their demand has been skyrocketing. Life without hard drives would be…hard.
Today, consumers have created an on-demand world, and are driving a revolution in the way they access, store and enjoy digital content. It would not be an understatement to say that their constantly increasing expectations and demands have been the driving force behind almost all the major innovations in hard drives. Consequently, vendors are offering a wide range of drives of varied size and features, especially optimised for use in servers, desktops, notebooks, digital video recorders, media players and other devices. Here’s a look at some of the technological innovations in HDDs that are revolutionising the way we store data.
Size does matter
You’ve surely noticed that gadgets and gizmos are getting smaller and sleeker, but not everyone knows that the shrinking size of the hard drive has been a major force behind this phenomenon. Seagate was the first to come up with a 1-inch (2.5 cm) hard drive with a 12 GB capacity. But the smallest till date is Toshiba’s 0.85-inch (2.1 cm) drive, initially introduced in 2GB and 4GB capacities.
Apart from the reduction in size, we also now have increased RPMs, increased cache memory, lower seek time and higher transfer rates. A 2.5-inch (6.35 cm) drive with 15,000 RPM, offering 750 GB memory, is easy to find in the market today. And this has been made possible to a certain extent by a new technology called perpendicular magnetic recording technology or PMR.
After 50 years of relying on longitudinal magnetic recording, the industry is shifting to perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR). PMR is a technology that makes data bits stand on end on the disk platter, rather than flat on the surface (as in longitudinal recording), thus achieving new levels of hard drive data density and storage capacity. Standing bits on end also improves the reliability of the read-write performance in demanding environments.
The technology was initially explored decades ago, but is only now being used in drive production. Toshiba was the first to launch its 1.8-inch (4.6 cm), 40 GB mobile hard drive based on PMR technology in 2005. Seagate joined the party with its 2.5-inch (6.35 cm), 160 GB notebook hard drive earlier this year. Today, it also offers the Barracuda 7200.10, with capacity-boosting perpendicular recording technology and a mammoth 750 GB of storage space.
Robert Chu, vice president, Hitachi, Asia Pacific, says, “Perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) is the most significant technology transition happening in the industry today. PMR allows hard drive manufacturers to squeeze more bits of data onto a disk, thus increasing the storage capacity of hard drives. Beyond that, we expect to see extensions to PMR, including thermally assisted recording and patterned media, which we believe will usher in terabit/sq.in. densities within a decade. The higher capacities afforded by these technological advancements will allow consumers to create and store ever greater amounts of rich-media content (photos, music, games, high-definition video, etc).”