Kyle Schurman
Apr 2, 2012

New hard drives can triple storage space

HDD with disks and motor hub removed exposing copper colored stator coils surrounding a bearing in the center of the spindle motorComputer storage space has never been cheaper -- this has been a key component in helping to make mobile personal electronics very popular and useful, as well as making Web-based storage more feasible. Despite the benefits of getting more storage space for the same price, it may seem like there should come a time where more storage simply isn’t necessary. Traditional magnetic hard drives, flash based storage devices and memory cards have more space than ever, while the basic size of the unit remains the same and prices have dropped. Seagate is pushing the envelope even further, as it has developed a new technology that allows it to store more than three times as much data on a traditional magnetic hard drive than was previously available.

Seagate is using a technology called heat-assisted magnetic recording that will allow at least 10 terabytes (TB) of data to be stored on a standard 3.5-inch hard disk platter; current hard disks can store about 3 TB per platter. Considering many hard drives contain as many as six platters, you could soon see 60 TB hard disks being offered at a reasonable price. 

By adding heat to the magnetic bits that are used to store data on a traditional hard drive, the individual bits can be made smaller, which allows Seagate to squeeze more bits per platter, more than tripling the amount of storage space available. Seagate expects its first products featuring this technology -- which will likely make use of an iron-platinum alloy, rather than the cobalt-platinum alloy in use with many hard drives now -- to appear in 2015.

You have to wonder, however, whether these advancements will be useful for standard consumers. After all, most people on their personal laptops or desktop computers have a tough time filling 500 gigabytes (GB), or 0.5 TB, of storage space. Up that to 60 TB or more per hard disk with this new technology, and you have to think you’d be better off with a less expensive technology that offered less storage -- since one TB is equal to about 1,000 GB, having 60,000 GB seems a bit gratuitous.

Then, think about the growing flash memory market. Tablets and ultra-thin notebook computers are using flash-based hard drives. While these flash drives are more expensive to manufacture, they have a much smaller footprint than traditional hard drives, which makes them beneficial in a smaller, thinner device. Tiny memory cards can hold a lot of data, too, adding to the demand for mobile devices.

In fact, you probably can find some USB flash drives today that you can carry in your pocket that probably can store more data than the bulky hard drives of a decade ago.

Seagate Technology US office in Scotts ValleySo where does a new hard drive technology fit into the world of today’s personal electronics and computing options? While a 60 TB hard drive may appeal to a few personal computer users, it is almost certainly going to represent a niche market. More consumers will be turning to mobile devices and their flash storage options, or they’ll opt for smaller, cheaper hard drives in their desktop and laptop computers. Perhaps graphic artists or small business could make use of the technology.

Where these hard drives featuring the new technology could make their mark especially felt, however, is in Web-based storage solutions. Cheap, plentiful storage is a great option for server farms, allowing companies to offer customers even more free storage space and other features than they already do.

Web-based backup storage options, such as Carbonite, could offer even more storage space at a lower price, for example. Facebook continually seems to give its users more storage space, and a new hard drive technology would make that easier for the company. Google, which already offers several GB of free online storage space for things like e-mail and document storage, may be able to even provide more space per user. Or companies could continue to offer the same amount of storage space to users, while just using fewer hard drives in their server farms, which will lead to smaller power requirements and cooling demands.

So, while you might not own a laptop with a 60 TB hard drive any time soon, you may very well end up using a hard drive that uses this new storage technology sometime in the latter half of the decade through the use of a Web-based storage option. Flash drives and memory cards undoubtedly will continue to provide more storage space in the same size of device, too, giving you the best of both storage worlds.