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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  • nandnandnand - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    They explained how to mitigate SMR performance issues in the article. Reply
  • romrunning - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    Sure, you can try to mitigate the performance, but I feel the initial performance design should have been aiming higher than existing PMR performance. That's why SMR is disappointing to me. I feel like they were dumping R&D into HAMR, and they weren't getting results as fast as they wanted. So they go the SMR route to get the desired results (more storage density) in the interim.

    It's not like SSDs. While SSDs were lower in capacity initially, the speed increase was dramatically better. SMR-based drives are only slightly better in capacity, but they are more noticeably worse in performance. Thus it didn't have the same impact - it doesn't have enough of the "wow" speed factor to help overlook its performance shortcomings.

    It's like when Honda introduced the new Insight hybrid. It wasn't better or even at the same level of "MPG" as the Prius; that's why it didn't fare well.
    Reply
  • JimmiG - Thursday, July 07, 2016 - link

    Well, SMR is a stopgap solution, but it's here now and it works. HAMR sounds great on paper, but show me where I can buy an 8 TB HAMR drive today, for under $250?

    My 8TB Seagate Archive has the lowest cost/GB of any drive at the time, and it works fine as a secondary storage/backup drive. Just manually dumping files to it or running scheduled backups work great, with performance that doesn't really "feel" any different than my 5900 RPM 4 TB PMR drive.
    Reply
  • romrunning - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    I also say this coming from someone who liked the Seagate 600 Pro SSD. They could have done a lot more years ago to compete for the market lead in consumer SSDs; basically Samsung dominates right now. Reply
  • StormyParis - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    Even as an individuaI, I mostly don't care about storage performance. OS and apps and "live" data files get an SSD. That <5% of my storage. Media, archives and backups get an HDD. That's >95% of my storage. I don't care about performance for SSD nor HDD, both are OK for the uses I dedicate them too even in their cheapest crappiest incarnations.
    I'm more interested in cost, space, reliability, and durability.
    Reply
  • serendip - Friday, July 08, 2016 - link

    Amen to that, beyond the tiny but vocal enthusiast community there are loads of users who want cheap, huge and reliable storage. I hope the SSD and HDD manufacturers don't forget this market and just concentrate on enthusiasts or enterprise customers. Reply
  • paulemannsen - Saturday, July 09, 2016 - link

    +1. I could even live with 10/10 mb read/write speeds, just give me more reliability and space. Reply
  • Nozuka - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    There are already 13TB SSDs... currently extremely expensive, but it's only a matter of time... Reply
  • XZerg - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    you mean 16TB - from Samsung - http://gizmodo.com/samsungs-16tb-ssd-is-now-an-act... Reply
  • Lolimaster - Friday, July 08, 2016 - link

    The 13TB was from fixstars (japan based). They were the 1st in multiterabyte SSDs 3-6-10-13TB. Reply

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