Hitachi hatches a humongous hard drive

Don't ask how a new drive head will result in astonishingly large hard drives. It just works.

Published October 15, 2007 4:15PM (EDT)

It's Monday morning and you, like me, are wondering, What, no news from the Perpendicular Magnetic Recording Conference taking place in Tokyo next week?

No worries, I've got you covered. Word today is that next week's confab of hard drive technologists will feature a big announcement from Hitachi, which says it has built the world's smallest hard drive "read head," allowing for disks as big as 4 terabytes huge.

Hitachi's news concerns something called "current perpendicular-to-the-plane giant magneto-resistive" read heads, and the best explanation of the technology I've seen comes from's Michael Kanellos.

Today's hard drives, Kanellos explains, use read heads in which two magnetic layers are separated by an insulator. The head controls how electrons "tunnel" from one magnetic layer through the insulator to the other -- and, in that way, it reads the 1's and 0's that constitute the language of digital data.

But as drive heads are made smaller in an effort to pack more data onto disks, electrical resistance begins to create "noise" in the data. Hitachi's new technique reduces that electrical resistance by doing away with the insulating layer between the two magnetic layers in the drive head.

Instead, a copper conductor separates the two magnets; current in the conductive layer runs perpendicular to the magnetic layers -- a structure that, somehow, reduces electrical noise in the drive head.

"Somehow?" you're asking. Yeah. I don't know how this technique results in more packed drives. It just works, OK.

Lest you forget, last week the Swedes awarded two European scientists a Nobel for coming up with the science behind hard drive heads. So we're not talking high school science fair stuff here, and if you don't get it, don't worry.

Just sit tight and enjoy the 4 TB hard drive this stuff'll make possible beginning in 2011.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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