HAMR: Over 2 Tb/inchand Onwards

As discussed above, SMR and TDMR technologies combined are expected to increase the areal density of HDD platters by approximately 10% to 20% compared to platters used inside of today’s hard drives. Seagate has done a lot to make SMR viable for a variety of applications and we are yet to see the fruits of TDMR. However, keeping in mind physical limitations of PMR and SMR as well as high-cost of helium-filled HDD tech (as of today, according to Seagate), a new magnetic recording technology is needed. Yes, we are (finally!) talking about HAMR.

Seagate says that its HAMR heads heat media to approximately 450°C using a laser with 810nm wavelength and 20mW power. Seagate’s current internal HAMR-based HDD have an areal density of about 2 Tb/inch2, which is considerably higher when compared to today’s PMR or SMR HDDs. Potentially, this means that Seagate can increase the capacity of hard drives by 2x just by employing the technology. In reality, not everything is that easy.

The device, which heats storage media, is called a near-field optical transducer (NFT). Hard drive makers use gold as the primary NFT material due to its superior optical properties. On the other hand, gold has a comparatively low mechanical strength and such NFTs may experience reflow at elevated temperatures resulting in deformation of the NFT shape. A deformation in shape can reduce coupling efficiency and reduce the amount of light energy transferred to the storage medium, which essentially means a damaged hard drive. This is why Seagate and other makers of HDDs have researched and patented a variety of materials (alloys based on gold, to be precise) for NFT for years now. Seagate does not reveal the alloy it uses for NFTs for now.

Nonetheless, Seagate stresses that when it ships its first HAMR-based HDDs for evaluation (in 2017) and then for commercial systems (in 2018), they will be rated to work for a long time, just like today’s hard drives. Seagate does not reveal any data about its HAMR-based HDDs for now, but claims that they can offer several writes per drive per day over five years, which suggests pretty high reliability. Eventually, client drives will also rely on HAMR, but those HDDs are pretty far away from us at this point.

The HDD maker is not disclosing any details when it comes to transducer materials. Apart from a durable NFT, HAMR-based HDDs will need a new head (featuring a heater, a writer, and several readers to mitigate the ITI effect), which means a lot of work both on hardware on multiple fronts. In the end, HAMR-based hard drives will aim to add both capacity and performance. But to make everything work, Seagate will have to develop a rather robust platform, which will involve complex controllers in addition to new materials and a number of other things.

It should be noted that HAMR is a challenge for the whole industry, not just for Seagate. As a result, as soon as the industry figures out how to make HAMR-based hard drives as reliable as traditional HDDs, the technology will be used right across the board.

New 10K and 15K RPM HDDs Incoming Conclusion and Sources
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  • Zak - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    Forget enterprise. I use 4GB drives as local backups and planning to go up to 6 or 8. Show me affordable 8TB SSD I can use for backup. Reply
  • inighthawki - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    8TB no, but I'm sure I can find you a few good 4GB drives :) Reply
  • cm2187 - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    WD Reds? Reply
  • cm2187 - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    Actually even cheaper if it is for backups: seagate 8tb archive drives. Reply
  • Samus - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    First off, GREAT article Anton. This is what AT is all about.

    I don't have a single HDD in my house anymore. Between 11TB on AWS and 800GB in OneDrive, it all comes down to the data centers which will all be using this technology.

    Meanwhile the 480GB SSD's that cost $100 running my PC's and laptop have made magnetic storage irrelevant for my consumer use, so who can blame Seagate for not targeting me?
    Reply
  • trivor - Thursday, July 07, 2016 - link

    What everyone seems to be missing it NASes for the home with LARGE MEDIA collections. When you're looking at 2 GB for DVD rips and 4-5 GB for Blu Ray rips you need Terabytes of storage for $30/terabyte (or less hopefully) that SSDs can't touch. Even for full Blu Ray rips (some people want this) you're still looking at only needing 50 Mbps without any compression and even a lossless rip with Makemkv will take it down to 20 GB and will easily stream from a NAS with any decent spinning drive. When SSDs which are currently around $200/GB (for a consumer commercially available drive) to compete with spinning drives (say 3 TB @ $94 for a Toshiba or 3 TB for WD Red @ $109) then we won't see much in the consumer space. Not to even talk about 8 TB drives for around $200-$250. We are a long way from the demise of consumer spinning drives. Reply
  • CaedenV - Thursday, July 07, 2016 - link

    No kidding! I love my SSDs, but they are not going in my Nas any time soon. I have 5 3tb drives in a raid 6...that would cost a mint in SSDs still. Maybe I'll get there eventually, but it is going to be a long time.

    Still, it is a sin to sell a pc with a hdd as a system drive these days. Really wish manufacturers would stop that
    Reply
  • JlHADJOE - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    IBM showed us that magnetic storage can store a bit using as few as 12 atoms. That's far denser than any type of memory developed so far.

    http://www.wired.com/2012/01/ibm-scientists/

    SSDs will replace HDDs for most of the consumer market, but HDDs will stay around for bulk data.
    Reply
  • Cygni - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    It's 'ogre'? Is shrek around or something?

    Also if you read the article, you will see that this isn't exactly focused at the same market as enthusiast SSDs.
    Reply
  • Michael Bay - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    Tell that to 8Tb of media I have copying to the new HDD now. Reply

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