But disk drive makers aren't reacting by lying down--literally.
The disk drive industry is changing, and it's going in a perpendicular direction when it comes to the next-generation disk drive technology--perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR). The transition to perpendicular recording means disk drives with a much higher capacity than those using traditional longitudinal magnetic recording.
For the past 50 years, disk drive makers have used longitudinal magnetic recording (LMR) technology to store data. LMR orients the magnetic bits in a plane that is parallel with the disk's surface. But over the years, longitudinal recording has reached its uppermost capacity, which, because of thermal instability, cannot exceed 110 gigabytes per platter. As a result, increasing the areal density (how much data can be packed into a given space) of a platter with LMR means shrinking data bits and packing them more tightly. But if the data bits become too small, the magnetic energy holding them in place also decreases and thermal energy causes them to demagnetize; then the previously recorded data is scrambled.
Perpendicular recording achieves higher storage densities by aligning the poles of the magnetic elements, which represents bits, perpendicular to the surface of the disk platter. The bottom line is higher capacity in disk drives.
Perpendicular recording has been in the research labs for more than two decades, and as many technical experts say, it is the natural evolution of the disk drive industry as it focuses on smaller and lighter form factors. Notebook computers, MP3 jukeboxes, handheld digital video cameras--they are all driving the demand for smaller drives with larger capacities.
"PMR allows us to take a quantum leap forward in terms of capacity," says Amy Dalphy, manager of hard disk drives, Toshiba storage device division. In June 2005, Toshiba was the first company to ship a hard disk drive using PMR technology.
Perpendicular technology offers an areal density growth path to 1 terabit and more. Technical experts concur that areal density growth will average 40 percent compounded annually, allowing hard disk drive storage to maintain its capacity lead over flash for the foreseeable future, according to research from TrendFOCUS .
Storage vendors say that PMR drives are more reliable and perform better than previous-generation drives. Also, they help keep the cost of storage down, says Joni Clark, product marketing manager, Seagate .
Seagate leads--for now
Four companies are shipping PMR drives. Seagate, Toshiba, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies and Western Digital . By the end of 2007, there will likely be about a dozen companies with PMR drives.
"Seagate is the undisputed leader," says Mark Geenen, an analyst with TrendFOCUS.
Seagate announced in August that it had shipped 700,000 units of the perpendicular 3.5-inch, 7,200-RPM ATA drive, and of those, about 100,000 had a capacity of 750 gigabytes apiece. Seagate has disk drive product lines that use perpendicular recording in each of the major markets: desktop, notebook, enterprise and consumer electronics.
"Seagate went from second to first in PMR-drive volumes," Geenen adds. "We're estimating that between 70 and 80 percent of drives Seagate ships will be PRM by the end of next year. There's no one close to it."
PMR may well compete with flash memory for some consumer applications. Apple's iPod Nano MP3 player is a good example. Many disk drive companies don't view the flash-only Nano as a big threat. They say there's room for both technologies in the consumer market.
"In terms of bit cost, flash is more expensive," says says Currie Munce, vice president of research, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies. "If you need only 2 gigabits, flash is cheaper. But there is a crossover where hard drives are cheaper and flash is nowhere close."
Bulkeley, Debra. "Market salutes stand-up storage technology." Electronic Business 1 Oct. 2006: 23. General OneFile. Web. 10 June 2010.
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