IBM said yesterday that it has made a breakthrough in disk storage technology that will quadruple the capacity of a disk drive, and could allow even the smallest computers to store large amounts of audio and video.
Big Blue's breakthrough is a three-atom thick layer of the element ruthenium, a precious metal similar to platinum, sandwiched between two magnetic layers. Because so few atoms can have such a dramatic impact, some IBM researchers refer to the ruthenium layer as "pixie dust".
Known technically as 'antiferromagnetically-coupled (AFC) media', the coating is expected to allow hard disk drives to store 100 million bits, or 100 gigabits, of data per square inch of disk area by 2003. Currently, the highest density in products is about 25 gigabits per square inch.
Currie Munce, advanced hard disk drive technology director at IBM, said: "AFC media is the first dramatic change in disk drive design made to avoid high-density data decay."
According to Munce, drives with densities of 100 gigabits per square inch will enable desktop drives to reach 400 gigabit storage levels, notebooks 200 gigabits and one-inch Microdrives 6 gigabits within the next two years.
He also said that the pace of this technology is now moving remarkably quickly and that the storage industry would be able to stay at this pace until about 2007. He said AFC will allow smaller drives to store more data and use less power.
Jim Porter, president of data storage research company Disk/Trend, explained that storage researchers have worked on AFC for years, but that "IBM is the first to turn theory into practice".
The technology is most likely to be used first in notebooks, and Big Blue is already shipping its Travelstar notebook hard disk drive products with data densities of up to 25.7 gigabits per square inch.
IBM intends to implement the technology across all of its disk drive product lines.
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