Lighting a Fire Under Hard Drives

Researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands believe that lasers will one day take over conventional magnetic data writers in hard disk drives. In laboratory experiments, they used laser light to write data to a magnetic hard drive at very high speeds. The technique works because the photons transmitted by the laser actually carry angular momentum, allowing them to interact with the hard drive. Also, each laser pulse heats a tiny space on the disk just enough to make changing its polarity a little easier. Reversing the polarity of the laser pulses is effectively the equivalent of either a 1 or a 0 of binary code on the disk storage medium.

The researchers managed to transfer data at intervals of about 40 femtoseconds (quadrillionths of a second), about 100 times faster than conventional magnetic transfers. One drawback is that the footprint of the laser pulse on the disk is about 5 microns wide, which is considerably larger than the footprint produced by existing data-transfer systems. But physics doctoral candidate and co-author Daniel Stanciu says the team is working on improvements in the technology that should reduce the footprint's size to about 10 nanometers, and he expects to see a working prototype within a decade.

News source: AAAS

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8 Comments

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I don't understand how this is substantially faster. Writing with a lazer will still require some kind of physical movement from a mirror, which is no different from the limitation caused by magnetic movement of the head.

Perhaps that's because you aren't a scientist ;)

They're talking about the actual time taken to write - not the time taken to seek. How much seeking is done depends on how fragmented the data you're reading is.

And its Laser, not Lazer.

you guys do realize that even tape drives are still being used right? Magnetical storage is much much much cheaper then flash media

Price is not the reason tape drives are still used. The reason is reliability. Companies can't afford to lose all their backups because a shelf tipped over and shattered their memory cards, DVDs, CDs or hard disks. Tapes can withstand flooding and in some circumstances, even fire. Even if the tape has been shattered, unwound, broken and twisted, data can still be recovered.

Actualy, tape drives are rather expensive. It's just that the media is so reliable that in mission-critical backup situations they only way to go is sometimes with a tape drive. Most of the time, RAID arrays, NAT boxes, and multiple redundant remote location mirrors will be enough, but for that once chance in a million that all of that fails you might still want to have some tape drives backing up the critical data.

Short of carving the data into stone, there's no more reliable way to backup data. And it's only slightly faster than carving the data into stone, too!

(just kidding about that last part)