As hard disk storage nears its physical limits, Western Digital Corp. is betting that its heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) technology will be able to increase the density of disk drives and enable them to store five times more data than is currently possible.

Current high density drives are able to pack as much as 750Gbits per inch on a platter, but HAMR has the potential to bump that up to a whopping 4 terabits per inch, according to Dr. Williams Cain, vice-president of technology for Western Digital. Cain conducted a demonstration of technology at the China International Forum on Advanced Materials and Commercialization using a PC with a 2.5-in HAMR hard drive.

He said industry analysts predict that some 25 trillion gigabyte of new data will be generated by users by 2020.

The average household data storage alone in North America will require as much as 3.3 TB in the next three years. According to Cain, HAMR technology will be critical in this “migration path.”

Other companies are working on their own HAMR products. Storage device makers Seagate and TDK conducted earlier demonstration of their own HAMR technology.

Seagate said it will be able to produce a 20TB 3.5-in hard drive by 2020.

HAMR technology involves the use of laser to health the hard disk surface during the data recording process. The heat shrinks a platter’s data bits and tightens the tracks increasing the disk’s density.

The heat shrinks a platter’s data bits and tightens the concentric circles, known as tracks, in order to increase density. HAMR uses high-stability magnetic compounds such as iron platinum alloy to store single bits in a much smaller area.

HAMR also uses nanotube-based lubrication to allow the read/write head of a disk to get close to the surface in order to be able to better read and write data.

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