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Seagate Momentus 5400.3 - Perpendicular Recording

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Author: Jason Kohrs
Manufacturer: Seagate
Source: Seagate
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Seagate Momentus 5400.3 - Perpendicular Recording
January 16, 2006

Seagate is one of the leading manufacturer's of hard drives and can be considered a pioneer in the field for many reasons. Established back in 1979, Seagate holds the distinction of being the first company to produce 5.25" drives for PCs. Over the past 26 plus years many other developments have helped earn Seagate a reputation for being the hard drive of choice among computer enthusiasts.

Their newest development will no doubt add to this reputation, and will change what consumers expect from their drives in terms of capacity, reliability, and performance.

The technology in question is 'Perpendicular Recording', and to refer to this as a new development may be a bit misleading. The concept has been around for about ten years, and it has been in development for the past five years. It just happens to be that Seagate is now prepared to offer a series of perpendicular recording hard drives to the public.

The Basics:

In terms of recording technology, not much has changed since the early days, and hard drives generally implement a recording technology referred to as 'longitudinal'. The graphic below (click for larger view) provides a comparison between the basic process of both longitudinal and perpendicular recording, with more information provided following the graphic.

Click Image For Larger View

Referencing the graphic, one of the keys to perpendicular recording is a change in the magnetic orientation of the data bits on the media. With longitudinal recording, the north and south poles of adjacent data bits are arranged in alternating directions parallel to the plane of the media. This technology works fine (keep in mind it has been the standard since IBM rolled out the first hard drive in 1956), but as the storage density increases the potential for data stability issues increases as well. The tighter the data is packed, the more likely it is that bits can become magnetically unstable and data loss will occur. When 'big' hard drives were 40GB-80GB units there was no issue, but with today's drives having capacities up to 500GB, we're getting close to the ceiling.

The storage density of a hard drive, also known as areal density, is measured in terms of data bits per square inch of storage surface. Perpendicular recording improves areal density by re-orienting the data bits so that the north and south poles of the data bits are no longer in a line parallel to the media (longitudinal), but you guessed it, perpendicular to the media's surface. This re-orientation allows for a higher recording density and eliminates the issues of data stability of concern in longitudinal recording.

Present longitudinal drives may offer areal densities of 110 Gbpsi (Gigabits per square inch), and with Seagate's initial release of perpendicular drives an increase to 132 Gbpsi has already been achieved. An instant increase of 20%, which is trivial considering the potential that this technology will offer. Seagate has successfully demonstrated the ability to provide 245 Gbpsi with perpendicular recording (with a data rate of 480 Mbits per second), and sometime in the future it is expected that 500 Gbpsi will become a reality!

Let's think about what these increased densities really mean. At 500 Gbpsi, 2.5" notebook drives could have a capacity of 500GB, 3.5" drives could store up to 2TB, and even 1" drives (as found in MP3 players) could store 50GB. Basically, we are looking at a four to five fold increase in storage capacity over current longitudinal hard drives.

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