In the recent months, Seagate has made several significant announcements regarding the future of HDD technology and unveiled a number of important products. In particular, late last year the company has said that hard disk drives would continue to evolve in the following 20 years, implying that Seagate is exploring multiple technologies to improve capacities and performance of HDDs. Additionally, Seagate introduced the first shingled magnetic recording (SMR) based consumer drives for mobile PCs, which marks a significant milestone in the development of the technology.

The Evolution Continues, New Challenges Arise

While solid-state storage devices are evolving fast in terms of performance and getting more affordable every year, they are not going to match hard drives in terms of cost-per-GB anytime soon. Still, with economic feasibility in place, HDDs are poised to keep evolving with larger capacities and better performance. Throughout the history of hard drives, the evolution of HDDs has involved multiple factors, including materials (platters), mechanics (motors, arm movers, internal structure, and so on), read/record heads, controllers and firmware.

The keys to additional capacity and performance of HDDs have remained generally the same over the years: small pitches and narrow tracks as well as a high rotating speed respectively. The evolution of HDDs in the future will rely on platter density and new heads, as well as the compute capabilities of their controllers. The performance of HDD controllers in the coming years will matter more than ever.

For our coverage, we approached Seagate and spoke with Mark Re, SVP and Chief Technology Officer of Seagate, to discuss their plans to announce HDDs featuring other important technologies. Rather than a question/answer discussion, what follows is a culmination and expansion of topics discussed.

Sources and Recommended Reading:

Seagate: Hard Disk Drives Set to Stay Relevant for 20 Years
Hard Disk Drives with HAMR Technology Set to Arrive in 2018
Market Views: HDD Shipments Down 20% in Q1 2016, Hit Multi-Year Low

Seagate to Expand Usage of SMR
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  • Ushio01 - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    I wonder how much of this will ever reach market? as SSD's take over ever more of the storage market the remaining HDD manufacturers will be required to spend ever more on R&D while dealing with shrinking revenue. Reply
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    The consumer HDD market is slowly imploding, but while it's roughly half of all drives sold that's not where the money is. The Enterprise HDD market is doing better. Sales are down a bit; but while Seagate/WD/Toshiba don't break the two segments of enterprise drives out, it's probably from SSDs chewing into 10/15k drives in servers not the high capacity 3.5" drives used for bulk storage. Seagates comments about the next gen of 15k drives potentially being the last tends to back this up, since they're talking about multiple generations of other drive types.

    Bulk data storage will stay with spinning rust until the price per GB crosses over in SSDs favor. Estimates I've seen on that a year or so ago were looking at 2025; but there's a fair amount of speculation there since the results of a half dozen generations of tech in each platform are somewhat speculative.
    Reply
  • Anato - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    That patent [1] is clear example how current patent system is out of control and not useful to society at large. Short recap, patents original idea was to give temporal monopoly to inventor who disclosed his invention. There was no right to own anything you invented, but it was seen that disclosing the invention would ultimately benefit society who, after temporal monopoly, could use the invention.

    Now opposite is true, there is nothing useful disclosed in Seagates patent! But we grand Seagate sole ownership to use Gold with Cu, Rh, Ru, ... or Mo in concentrations of 0.5-30% in HAMR NFT. How does this benefit us?

    Of course Seagate can't stop WD to use same alloys as WD have similar patents to sue back, but they both can stifle smaller competitors. I don't think there will be any more competitors in HDD space, but same applies to other fields and their patents.

    [1] http://www.google.com/patents/US8427925

    [Disclosure, I didn't read full patent application, did cursory review and didn't find anything of value]
    Reply
  • Zak - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    I was wondering why HDs never broke the 7500rpm and 15000rpm barriers. Reply
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    For consumer devices: noise. 10/15k HDDs are obnoxiously loud like an >40x CD or >16x DVD drive; except that they're spinning constantly not just for the few minutes it takes to read/write them. On the enterprise side, I'd guess implementation difficulty; probably due to vibrations was the limiting factor. If not mechanical strength of the platters themselves was probably the issue. Top end centrifuges can go to at least 70k RPM; but can be built much more heavily than a thin platter can. Reply
  • metayoshi - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    Not just noise, but heat. In a constrained system like a laptop or desktop, the spindle and vibrations cause a ton of heat to be generated. Just look at WD's last consumer 10k drive, the 1 TB Velociraptor. It's a 2.5" drive that comes with its own heatsink for 3.5" bays. You definitely can't put that in a laptop, and it hits a market in the desktop space which has pretty much been taken over by SSDs. Reply
  • piasabird - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    Still using hard drives. No reason to switch when hard drives are so cheap. When I watch TV on the Internet, It still works so no reason to change. Reply
  • pavag - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    Kurzweil curse.

    Nobody accounts the relative speed of price reduction. SSD will get cheaper per gigabyte than SSD before 2020.

    We will never see HDMR HDD. And there is a chance we will not even get HAMR.

    And article speculating about the date when SSD will beat HDD for price per gigabyte would be interesting.
    Reply
  • serendip - Friday, July 08, 2016 - link

    I'm not sure about this. On my laptop, I've got a 120 GB SSD I got ages ago along with a recent 2 TB drive. Both cost about the same when new. I think HDDs will continue to get bigger and cheaper faster than SSDs, at least until some new process tech allows for very high flash densities and low production cost.

    The main issue is price. There are still lots of users (like me) who can't afford huge multi-TB SSDs to hold everything, so they have to make do with a boot SSD and a storage HDD.
    Reply
  • jabber - Wednesday, July 06, 2016 - link

    So you didn't bother to ask why Seagate's HDD reliability has nosedived since the floods a few years back? Reply

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