WD, Hitachi and Seagate Team Up to Build Biggest Hard Drives Ever

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by Jacqueline Emigh

In the interests of building denser and roomier hard disk drives (HDDs), Hitachi, Seagate and Western Digital (WD) have formed a new research group called the Storage Technology Alliance (STA), with hopes of persuading other storage vendors as well as semiconductor makers to team up, too.

The group’s founders seek to share research & development (R&D) costs around increasingly complex storage technologies while keeping HDD prices down and assuring product compatibility, said Mark Geenen, chairman of the International Disk Drive and Equipment Materials Association (IDEMA), which will manage the STA.

Immediate plans call for talking with Toshiba and Samsung, but component makers Fuji Electric, LSI, Marvell, TDK and Texas Instruments (TI) are also expected to join by the end of this year, along with equipment makers such as Veeco and Xyratex, according to an account in EE Times.

Level of collaboration is new for HDD makers
“Although HDD companies have shared in creating a roadmap for future areal densities and on working through iNEMI to develop needed technology, the collaboration has never gone to level of mutual development that the STA represents,” noted Thomas Coughlin, president of Coughlin Associates, in a recent report.

“This approach to develop common technology and tools for difficult technology transitions is new to the hard disk drive industry, but it has been carried on for years by the semiconductor industry.”

Some HDD vendors like patterned media, others prefer HAMR
In efforts to create higher density media with greater storage space, some HDD manufacturers, such as Hitachi and Toshiba, have been working to develop patterned media as a way of precisely locating bits on a spinning disk. Others favor heat- or energy-assisted magnetic recording.

Seagate, for example, has been working on a heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) technology which uses a laser heat source to very quickly raise the temperature of a small spot on the disk.

In a paper presented at the Magnetic Recording Conference in San Diego last week, Toshiba outlined a patterned media technology which uses an etching mask as a template to create a servo pattern.

Theoretically, the pattern is then readable by a hard drive using 17 namomenter (nm) dots, with each dot representing a single bit of memory. Toshiba now claims to be the first drive manufacturer capable of controlling a head flying over a dense data track composed of self-assembling polymer dots.

However, Toshiba hasn’t yet been able to prove that it can actually read and write data using this patterned media technique.

“The alliance is targeting technology for greater than 1.5 Tbpsi areal density recording,” said Coughlin. “There are estimates that [either] HAMR or patterned media could allow areal densities approaching 10 Tbpsi and together they may allow areal densities that approach 50 Tbpsi. [Yet] both technologies have technical issues as well as capital expenses that make their introduction daunting to a single HDD company.”

Collaboration is happening in SSDs, too
Meanwhile, collaboration is under way in solid state drives (SSDs), as well. Last year, Hitachi announced a multi-year agreement with Intel to jointly develop SSDs for the enterprise market.

Seagate and Samsung have now followed in their footsteps with their own mutual development pact around SDD controller technology. Each of these two SSD partnerships represents teamwork between an HDD specialist and a company with flash memory expertise.

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