Tag Archives: hdd

Graphene protective coatings could improve hard disk data storage potential ten-fold

A paper published by researchers at the Cambridge Graphene Center, in collaboration with an international team, might change the way your PC stores data forever — or, at least, for a while!

An “opened, old hard disk drive”. Image credits Norlando Pobre / Flickr.

Are you looking for a storage upgrade on your device? Thinking of trading ye olde hard disk drive (HDD) for the sleeker, cooler, faster, solid-state drive (SSD)? I can completely empathize. But fear not! The HDD is getting an upgrade in graphene form, according to a new paper, which should increase the amount of data they can store tenfold (compared to currently available technology).

The study was carried out in collaboration with researchers at the University of Exeter, India, Switzerland, Singapore, and the US.

Hard graphene drive

“Demonstrating that graphene can serve as a protective coating for conventional hard disk drives and that it is able to withstand HAMR conditions is a very important result. This will further push the development of novel high areal density hard disk drives,” said Dr. Anna Ott from the Cambridge Graphene Center, one of the co-authors of this study.

HDDs were first introduced in the 1950s, but they wouldn’t have a meaningful impact on personal computers until the 1980s, mostly due to cost and complexity of manufacture. Since then, however, they have been a game-changer: HDDs can store much more data in a smaller package than any medium before them. In later years, SSDs have become the more popular choice for mobile devices due to their greater speed and more compact size, but HDDs still offer greater data density at a low cost, and are still the preferred choice of storage medium for desktop computers.

There are two main components that make up an HDD: the platters, and a head, mounted on a mobile arm. Data is stored on the platters, written there by the magnetic head as the platters spin rapidly. The head is also what reads data off the platters. The sound you can maybe hear coming from your PC as it tries to access something in its memory are these parts in motion inside the HDD. More modern drives leave less and less room between these parts, in order to save on space.

Still, a key part of the HDD’s design is to keep the platters from being damaged, either from mechanical shock or chemical corrosion. Our current way of doing this — carbon-based overcoats (the unfortunately shortened ‘COCs’) — occupy very little space. Today they’re around 3nm thick, but they used to be 12.5nm thick or more in the 1990s. This thinning of the COCs has helped increase the HDDs’ overall data density to about one terabyte per square inch of platter. The new graphene coatings could increase this extra storage space tenfold.

The team replaced commercial-grade COCs with between one to four layers of graphene, and then tested their resilience against friction, wear, corrosion, as well as their thermal stability and compatibility with current lubricants. Apart from being much thinner, these layers fulfil the same job as current COC materials, the team explains, having ideal properties in all the analyzed categories. They’re actually better at corrosion resistance and two times better at friction reduction than our best COC options right now.

Additionally, the graphene layers were compatible with Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR), a technique that allows more data to be stored on the HDD by heating up the platter. Current COC materials do not perform well at these high temperatures, the authors add.

An iron-platinum platter was used for the study. The team estimates that such a disk, coupled with the graphene coatings and HAMR technology could lead to potential data densities of over 10 terabytes per square inch of platter.

“This work showcases the excellent mechanical, corrosion and wear resistance properties of graphene for ultra-high storage density magnetic media. Considering that in 2020, around 1 billion terabytes of fresh HDD storage was produced, these results indicate a route for mass application of graphene in cutting-edge technologies,” says Professor Andrea C. Ferrari, Director of the Cambridge Graphene Center, and co-author of the study.

The paper “Graphene overcoats for ultra-high storage density magnetic media” has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

Single-atom magnets used to create data storage one million times more dense than regular hard disks

A team of researchers has created the smallest and most efficient hard drive in existence using only two atoms. This technology is currently extremely limited in the amount of data it can store, but the technique could provide much better storage when scaled up.

Image credits Michael Schwarzenberger.

Hard drives store data as magnetic fields along a disk housed inside the drive. It’s split into tiny pieces and each acts like a bar magnet, with the field pointing either up or down (1 or 0) to store binary information. The smaller you can make these areas, the more data you can cram onto the disk — but you can’t make them too small, or you risk making them unstable so the 1’s and 0’s they store can and will switch around.

What if you used magnets that remained stable even when made to be really tiny? Well, those of you that remember physics 101 will know that cutting a magnet in two makes two smaller magnets. Cut them again in half and you get four, then eight and so on smaller magnets — but they also become less stable.

But a team of researchers has now created something which seems to defy all odds: stable magnets from single atoms. In a new paper, they describe how using these tiny things they created an atomic hard drive, with the same functionality as a traditional drive, but limited to 2 bits of data storage.

Current commercially-available technology allows for one bit of data to be stored in roughly one million atoms — although this number has been reduced to 1 in 12 in experimental settings. This single-atom approach allows for one bit of data to be stored in one single atom. A scaled-up version of this system will likely be less efficient, but could increase current storage density by a factor of 1,000, says Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) physicist and first author Fabian Natterer.

Holmium bits

Looks hairy.
Image source Images of Elements / Wikipedia.

Natterer and his team used holmium atoms, a rare-earth metal, placed on a sheet of magnesium oxide and cooled to below 5 degrees Kelvin. Holmium was selected because it has many unpaired electrons (which creates a strong magnetic field) sitting in a close orbit to the atom’s nucleus (so they’re relatively well protected from outside factors). These two properties taken together give holmium a strong and stable magnetic field, Natter explains, but it also makes the element frustratingly difficult to interact with.


The team used a pulse of electric current released from the magnetized tip of scanning tunneling microscope to flip the atoms’ field orientation — essentially writing data into the atoms. Testing showed that these atomic magnets could retain their state for several hours, and showed no case of spontaneous flip. The same microscope was used to then read the bits stored in the atoms. To double-check that the data could be reliably read, the team also devised a second read-out method. By placing an iron atom close to the magnets and tuning it so that its electronic properties depended on the orientations of the 2-bit systems. This approach allowed the team to read out multiple bits at the same time, making for a faster and less invasive method than the microscope reading technique, Otte said.

It works, but the system is far from being practical. Two bits is an extremely low level of data storage compared to every other storage method. Natterer says that he and his colleagues are working on ways to make large arrays of single-atom magnets to scale-up the amount of data which can be encoded into the drives.

But the merits and possibilities of single-atom magnets shouldn’t be overlooked, either. In the future, Natterer plans to observe three mini-magnets that are oriented so their fields are in competition with each other, making each other continually flip.

“You can now play around with these single-atom magnets, using them like Legos, to build up magnetic structures from scratch,” he says.


Other physicists are sure to continue research into these magnets as well.

The full paper “Reading and writing single-atom magnets” has been published in the journal Nature.

The 16TB Samsung PM1633a SSD. Image: Golem.de

World’s largest storage device: a 16 TB SSD that’s 60% larger than closest competitor

In a leap of innovation, Samsung unveiled its largest storage unit ever: a 15.36TB flash drive which uses  256GB NAND flash as the basis for the storage. The hard drive is 60% bigger than its closest competitor and all that storage is packed inside a tiny 2.5-inch SSD case – and yes, I prefer to still call it a hard drive even though there aren’t any motors, pivots or arms. Deal with it.

The 16TB Samsung PM1633a SSD. Image: Golem.de

The 16TB Samsung PM1633a SSD. Image: Golem.de

So, the hard drive is called  PM1633a, an unfitting name for such a sexy gear. At the Flash Memory Summit in California, though, Samsung referred to its product as JBOF, for “just a bunch of flash. At the convention, the HDD was stacked in 48 other units inside a server. Combined the server can store 770 TBs which is quite a bit more than most server can handle over the same surface area. What’s JBOF’s secret? Details are very sketchy at this point, but Ars Technica reports the Korean researchers were able to increase storage capacity considerably by stacking transistors vertically. How in the world they’ve managed to solve heating issues and cram all those transistors in 2.5-inch case is beyond me at this point.

Now word on the price yet, but considering a 1TB enterprise SSD costs around $1,000 you can expect the price tag to be quite hefty.