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R&D

Seagate goes the other way: HAMR

As the price of helium goes up one of the most abundant elements in the universe is getting harder to get. The US accounts for 75% of the world’s Helium supply, and the prices are set by the federal government who recently indicated that prices will go up more than 10% in 2013. In one of our previous articles we announced new Western Digital hard disk drives based on so called ‘sealed drive’ technology designed by HGST.

A while ago Seagate published an interview with Jon Piazza, Seagate Senior Manager of Corporate Communications, related to the future of data storage. The rumor was the use of helium gas inside hard drives and the viability of such design.helium

“We have explored helium filled drives as well as many other technologies for delivering higher capacities and lower total cost of ownership (TCO). Seagate has been working with helium from the earliest days, probably earlier than anyone in the industry. We have over 80 patents related to this technology today and will continue to explore its viability, its benefits as well as its potential costs and risks,” Jon says is the interview.

Some estimates that helium global consumption is around 180 million cubic meters a year. There’s also an estimated 50 billion cubic meters of helium lying around out there which is a near 300 year supply at current usage rates. Does this mean, the Helium shortage and price increasing is a just a bunch of hot air?

Seagate has its own way to stay in the game and funny enough their technology is based on the other “H”. HAMR or Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording is a technology for which Seagate believes is a path to increased areal density and higher capacity hard drives. Seagate’s researchers estimates that although still a few years away, HAMR will do for data storage what Perpendicular Magnetic Recording (PMR) did several years ago. Long story short, HAMR is a technology that magnetically records data on high-stability media using laser thermal assistance to first heat the material. Technology takes advantage of high-stability magnetic compounds such as iron platinum alloy which can store single bits in a much smaller area without being limited by the same superparamagnetic effect that limits the current technology used in hard disk storage. But there is a catch as the media must be heated to apply the changes in its magnetic orientation and the additional heat can cause components such as the write head to destabilize and fall out of alignment.

For us involved in data recovery the future will be more difficult. One way or another hard disk capacity will continue to increase as the sector size as well as the distance between a platter and the disk heads will decrease. Current technology and methods involved in hard disk recovery will have to be improved. It may not be a surprise if data recovery technicians give way to skillful robots since they have no problem working in clean chambers filled with helium gas or replacing heads which will be flying even closer to disk platter.

One thing is for sure number of hard disk manufactures is now less than handful and in the near future only one may remain.

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