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Storage Breakthrough Claimed With Hot Disk Technology

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Scientists are detailing a potential storage breakthrough that uses heat to magnetically record and store data

A much faster way of making magnetic disk recordings by using laser heat is being touted by an international group of scientists as a potential storage breakthrough.

The researchers claim the technique will allow data to be processed hundreds of times faster than by current hard drive technology.

Laser Pulse

The scientists found they could record information using only heat, something previously not thought possible, which they believe will not only make future magnetic recording devices faster, but more energy-efficient as well.

The discovery was made by a multinational team of scientists, led by the University of York’s Department of Physics, including researchers from Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, Russia, Japan and the Netherlands. Their research findings have been published in the February edition of Nature Communications.

Currently, data is written to a traditional hard disk drive (HDD) by applying an external magnetic field that briefly inverts the polarity of the medium. The researchers used a technique that pulses a laser beam to heat the magnetic media very briefly.

Polar warming

“Instead of using a magnetic field to record information on a magnetic medium, we harnessed much stronger internal forces and recorded information using only heat,” said York physicist Thomas Ostler.

“This revolutionary method allows the recording of terabytes, thousands of gigabytes, of information per second, hundreds of times faster than present hard drive technology,” Ostler added. “As there is no need for a magnetic field, there is also less energy consumption.”

Fellow researcher Dr Alexey Kimel, from the Institute of Molecules and Materials at Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands, said, “For centuries it has been believed that heat can only destroy the magnetic order. Now we have successfully demonstrated that it can, in fact, be a sufficient stimulus for recording information on a magnetic medium.”

The scientists said that current magnetic recording technology used in today’s HDDs employs the principle that the north pole of a magnet attracts the south pole of another, and two like poles repel.

“Until now it has been believed that in order to record one bit of information – by inverting the poles of a magnet – there was a need to apply an external magnetic field. The stronger the applied field, the faster the recording of a magnetic bit of information,” the scientists said.

The scientists have demonstrated that the positions of both the north and south poles of a magnet can be inverted by an ultrashort heat pulse, harnessing the power of much stronger internal forces of magnetic media.

Storage Work

This news comes after last month’s revelation that IBM had successfully managed to store information in as few as 12 atoms. The company said that this is at least 100 times denser than today’s hard disk drives and solid-state memory chips, and is the culmination of 30 years of nanotechnology research.

Last August, IBM also revealed it was building a hard disk system capable of storing 120 petabytes, or 120 million gigabytes, of data – around 10 times larger than any drive previously put together. That system, made up of 200,000 conventional hard disk drives working together, is being built for an unnamed client by IBM’s Almaden, California, research lab.