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


View All Comments

  • anactoraaron - Thursday, July 7, 2016 - link

    Forgot to mention that it is a 5tb archive drive. Didn't realize that it would take me 3 days to archive 3tb to it. Reply
  • kmmatney - Thursday, July 7, 2016 - link

    While all this new tech sounds great, all I want out of a HDD is reliability. In my house, HDDs are now just used for backup - I would gladly sacrifice performance, and even density, just to get a drive that I know will last 10 years. I still have G1 Intel SSDs from 2010 that are working fine as OS drives - so it's just a matter or GB/$ why I don't back up to SSD. It still seems like HDDs are nit-or-miss when it comes to reliability. Reply
  • Lolimaster - Friday, July 8, 2016 - link

    4x6TB WD blue and get more drives to mirror data + maybe google drive 10TB plan? Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Friday, July 8, 2016 - link

    Hitachi has significantly better reliability!

  • Lolimaster - Friday, July 8, 2016 - link

    Right now I wont touch a Seagate even with a 1000km pole. SMR is pretty much cr*ap for consumers. Where are my HAMR? 15-20TB drives? Reply
  • Michael Bay - Friday, July 8, 2016 - link

    In 2020 somewhere. Reply
  • zodiacfml - Friday, July 8, 2016 - link

    I have to agree to that first comment that they just have to give up. They are just slowing down their demise.

    Currently and years to come, HDDs will become archival devices were fewer consumer devices will have HDDs in the coming years. The company will need this volume/scale from consumers to lessen the price of enterprise grade hardware.

    If they cannot lessen the price for these enterprise customers, they will prefer SSDs despite costing more or having less capacity due to its higher performance and lower power consumption.
  • James_Edge - Friday, July 8, 2016 - link

    "While the evolution of consumer HDDs in the recent years was not fast, things are about to change."

    The thing is, nobody needs huge consumer HDDs anymore. The only reason people ever bought large drives was for storing pictures/backups and for their pirated music/film collection. Well cheap/affordable digital streaming services have made a massive dent in piracy, and cloud storage/backup services provide excellent storage.

    I honestly don't know any consumers who use more than 1-2TB of mechanical storage these days unless they are still hording all their VCD/DivX rips and .iso's...
  • jabber - Friday, July 8, 2016 - link

    Yeah I see the folks who have TBs of ripped anime/porn etc. etc. as having a mental illness. New form of packrat syndrome. Let it go. Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Friday, July 8, 2016 - link

    You gotta wonder what's the BOM cost to produce a 0.5TB HDD vs Samsung's single chip 0.5TB SSD. And at 1TB, 2TB, etc. Are HDDs necessarily cheaper, being so much heavier and mechanically complex? Reply

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