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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  • drothgery - Saturday, July 9, 2016 - link

    It's complicated. There's a minimum cost to build any mechanical hard drive, and the cheapest possible flash storage device is cheaper than that. That's why you don't see HDDs in any applications that need less than 128 GB or so anymore. It's just that the marginal cost of additional capacity is lower with hard drives (at least, until you start figuring in complex TCO arguments for data centers with very large amounts of storage). Reply
  • zodiacfml - Sunday, July 10, 2016 - link

    It is almost irrelevant due to economies of scale. Right now, HDD are still comfortable with their scale right now. They have to be scared as it might drop non-linear in a few years; their drives will become more expensive that they will have to produce fewer, larger, archival drives. Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Sunday, July 10, 2016 - link

    "almost irrelevant"? HDD's entire play is cost/GB, and there's reason to believe they cost MORE below some capacity.

    "economy of scale" - you mean volume? Samsung already ships >10B memory chips per year, far more than Seagate units.
  • Danvelopment - Sunday, July 10, 2016 - link

    Hard drives will remain as long as price/GB stays well ahead of solid state.

    Seeing as manufacturers have been unwilling to maintain that for the last 4 years, all I can see is a death spiral.

    I bought 3x 2TB HDDs in 2012 for $99NZD each. The current cheapest 2TB HDD is $115. And the cheapest HDD or GB is a 3TB at $156 (slightly more/GB).

    Fark HDD manufacturers. They can't win on performance or reliability against Samsung SSDs, all they can do is win on price but that gap has shrunk so much in four years I don't hold much hope for them without a drastic move. SSDs don't have to reach the same price point to take over, they just need to be close enough when accounting for the performance gap.

    It also doesn't help that they've already lost the density crown and in a much smaller form factor.
  • Bobs_Your_Uncle - Tuesday, July 12, 2016 - link

    Just now (7/12/16 @ 19:17EST) heard on The Nightly Business Report (PBS) that Seagate:
    - announced earnings that exceeded analyst expectations
    - raised their projected income guidance
    - experienced their "best day ever" in the markets (measurement metrics not disclosed)

    ... oh yeah ...

    and Seagate announced that they're eliminating 6,000 jobs ...

    The future is certainly looking rosy ... I guess ...
  • neatfeatguy - Thursday, July 14, 2016 - link

    I hear Seagate is looking to close out a major branch location nearing the end of the year or start of Q1 2017. Location in Shakopee, MN or a China branch (sorry, I didn't get what location in China.....rumor is pointing to MN location so far and as early as start of December has been hinted).

    Makes you wonder how well things can really be going for them - unless this is a restructure to help them stay viable in the every fast changing world of storage technology.
  • truemore - Thursday, July 28, 2016 - link

    So I was having a meeting with one of the large corporate storage providers asking when they thought the "mass change" would happen from HHD to SSD for corporate storage.
    Interestingly even their technology people were surprised, but at the enterprise level the inflection point happened this year for primary storage devices. Given much better TCO over time and vast performance improvement with SSDs they have better short and long term ROI due to a better than expected 40% decrease in price per TB in the past 12 months and the large jump in maximum enterprise SSD size.
    According to their people they are pushing all customers as fast as possible to SSD for all hot, and most warm storage. For them it makes perfect sense since they have very few drives break, arrays can easily be upgraded lowering the number of RFPs per $ sold and the performance increase for the customers is frankly amazing in the enterprise compute environment.
    I wonder how this shift will affect us on the bottom, since large storage providers suck a large portion of the overall storage market. They may be the 600 gorilla that forces the market to make a quick move off of HDDs,
    I would also be curious how the better performance and longer life span of SSDs will hurt SSD/HHD producers over the long haul since there will be much fewer sales over the long term.
  • Gothmoth - Saturday, July 30, 2016 - link

    what i want from HDD´s is REABILITY, REABILITY, REABILITY.

    it can´t be that 10+% o harddrives from seagate die on me in the first 6-8 month.
    i have a small renderfarm at home and 8 sytems with 2-4 harddrives each.

    infant mortality of HDD´s is a real problem. and overall REABILITY seems to be getting worse.
  • Gothmoth - Saturday, July 30, 2016 - link

    sorry i meant RELIABILITY... :-) Reply
  • profquatermass - Monday, August 29, 2016 - link

    Oh the Irony...... Reply

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