IBM’s ‘Pixie Dust’ to Quadruple Disk Drive Density

IBM says it is the first company to mass-produce hard disk drives using a new type of magnetic coating that is eventually expected to quadruple the data density of current hard disk drive product.
According to IBM, the key to this data storage breakthrough is a three-atom-thick layer of the element ruthenium, a precious metal similar to platinum, sandwiched between two magnetic layers. That only a few atoms could have such a dramatic impact caused some IBM scientists to refer to the ruthenium layer informally as “pixie dust.”

Known technically as “antiferromagnetically-coupled (AFC) media,” the new multilayer coating is expected to permit hard-disk drives to store 100 billion bits (gigabits) of data per square inch of disk area by 2003. AFC media is shipping in volume beginning today in IBM’s Travelstar notebook hard disk drive products with data densities up to 25.7 gigabits per square inch. In time, IBM plans to implement AFC media across all of its disk drive product lines.

“AFC media is the first dramatic change in disk drive design made to avoid the high-density data decay due to the superparamagnetic effect,” said Currie Munce, who holds the dual positions of director, Advanced Hard Disk Drive Technology at IBM’s Storage Technology Division and director, Storage Systems and Technology at IBM’s Almaden Research Center. “Our deep understanding of the complex physical phenomena of how the AFC media works enabled us to be first in the industry to ship AFC media in products, and we’re working to extend this technology to perform magnetic recording at 100 gigabits per square inch and beyond.”

With AFC media, according to IBM, 100-gigabit data density could allow the following capacities within two years:

--  Desktop drives -- 400 gigabytes (GB) or the information in 400,000

--  Notebook drives -- 200 GB, equivalent to 42 DVDs or more than 300

--  IBM's one-inch Microdrive -- 6 GB or 13 hours of MPEG-4 compressed
    digital video (about eight complete movies) for handheld devices.

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