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Storage: Terabytes and Beyond

Perpendicular magnetic recording, which is used on Seagate's 750GB Barracuda, is only the start of new data storage technologies.
Perpendicular magnetic recording, which is used on Seagate's 750GB Barracuda, is only the start of new data storage technologies.
Hitachi senior VP Bill Healy says that if current trends hold, by 2025 a standard 3.5-inch hard drive (if any manufacturer still bothered to make models in that format) could contain up to 20 terabytes of data.

Driving the immediate surge of capacity is perpendicular magnetic recording technology, which overcomes the limitations of traditional longitudinal magnetic recording and packs much more data into a far smaller physical area. The first hard drives using PMR reached market last year. Seagate's chief technology officer, Mark Kryder, informed us that all of his company's upcoming hard drives will employ it.

Heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), which allows platters to be made from materials that can support a denser number of bits, is expected early next decade. Even more of a long shot is patterned media, which forgoes a uniform layer in favor of "islands" of material that do not physically touch each other.

The future of optical storage is far less certain. The current battle between Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD, two competing and incompatible blue-laser formats, has no clear winner in sight. "As long as there are two solutions battling it out, there will never be a critical mass established, and that will keep prices high," Gartner's Steve Kleynhans says. "You need a single standard in order to get economies of scale and broad public acceptance."

Meanwhile, one potential upgrade to flash media could come in the form of ultradense probe storage, which is being developed by Seagate, among others. It's based on technology borrowed from electron microscopes, and it could well cram 10GB into a device the size of an SD Card.

Special Report: Tomorrow's Technology

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The Future of Cell Phones The Future of Privacy
The Future of the Web The Future of Nanotech
The Future of OSs The Future of You
The Future of Fun 100 Fearless Forecasts
Incredible Tech: Lies Ahead A Look Back

Christopher Null is a San Francisco-based journalist. He covers technology daily on his blog at tech.yahoo.com.
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