With SSD prices dropping, many people have forgotten about mechanical drives, yet the race to get more bits into mechanical storage devices is far from over.
Virtually all hard drive manufacturers now offer 18 terabyte models to the general public, while the largest drives available to data center operators reach 20 terabytes.
In terms of new technology development, Seagate has an 18 terabyte IronWolf hard drive for high-end desktops and NAS. Earlier this year, the company shipped its first 20-terabyte drives based on heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) technology to some of its business customers, albeit in relatively small numbers.
Seagate has high hopes of harnessing it to make a generational leap of higher capacity compared to traditional perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) technology. The latter only allows increases of about two terabytes at a time, while HAMR technology theoretically allows increases of between four and ten terabytes.
The company has succeeded in increasing the areal density of hard drive platters to the point where a nine platter device can store 30 to 40 terabytes of data. Seagate claims they still have more work to do on drive drivers, read / write heads, and other components that make up a complete product.
According to Seagate CFO Gianluca Romano, the company has remained relatively quiet on the HAMR front because it did not believe that first-generation drives were suitable for mass adoption. Instead, the company has been working intensively on a second-generation HAMR drive that will likely store about 30 terabytes of data. This is the model that Seagate wants to market in higher volumes.
Romano didn’t say when exactly we can expect to see this new family of HAMR units on the market, but judging from the company’s most recent roadmap, it’s safe to assume it refers to the 2023-2024 time frame. This means that, unlike Toshiba and others, Seagate plans to skip the step of microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR) and go for HAMR and dual-actuator technologies.
One thing we know for sure about Seagate’s second-generation HAMR drives is that the company has partnered with Japanese board and bracket supplier Showa Denko. The latter company has recently developed an iron and platinum magnetic material that allows area densities of up to 6 Tb per square inch. This should allow Seagate to deliver on its promise of 100 terabyte drives by 2030.