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HDDs need to swerve away from ITRS roadmap

Posted: 16 Sep 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:HDD  disc drive  HDD roadmap  patterned media 

Technology roadmaps are the lifeblood of most electronics industries. The International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) has been an invaluable tool to align R&D and product development activities across the $200 billion IC industry, which requires close process integration for timely generational products. This semiconductor roadmap is periodically updated by many industry experts who also provide advance warning of pending technology limitations, potential solutions, and areas requiring innovation.

The HDD industry also finds its lifeblood in a technology roadmap. The areal density roadmap describes the number of magnetic bits per unit area on the disc platter—thereby defining the storage capacity. Each year the areal density increases by an average of 40 per cent, enabling disc drives to play the lead role in serving humankind's insatiable thirst for reliable, compact and economical data storage. During the first half of this decade most areal density advances have been the result of changes to the thin-film head (TFH) that allow it to read and write smaller bits of data as it flies at an altitude of less than 10nm above a magnetic disc platter rotating at a typical 7,500 rpm. In more recent years, areal density improvements have been attributed to changing the magnetic bits on the disc platter from a longitudinal to a more compact perpendicular orientation.

Perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) technology and TFH advances have enabled today's state of the art areal density of over 400Gbit/in². The leading 'magneticians' believe PMR can be extended to close to 1,000Gbit/in² or 1Tbit/in². This will be an impressive feat, but by the end of 2011 the industry's areal density roadmap will require 1.2Tbit/in². While the HDD industry is accustomed to having only a two- or three-year solution horizon, crossing the 1Tbit/in² technology barrier will not be business as usual.

The prevailing plan to avoid a cardiac arrest of the areal density roadmap involves patterning of the hard disc platters. A patterned media surface physically defines the geometric shape and placement of each bit on the disc. This feature isolation improves the signal-to-noise during the normal read/write operations of the hard drive and enables further bit shrinks otherwise unpractical due to data loss from exceeding the infamous superparamagnetic limit. (This occurs when bits become too small and their states randomly flip from thermal instability even at normal ambient temperatures.)

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