Magnetic-based HDDs still cheapest in 2020

A new study has found that if magnetic-based hard disk drives (HDDs) continue to progress at their current rate then by 2020 we'll see a 2.5" HDD with a capacity of more than 14TB at a cost of about $US40. Flash memory will also become cheaper, but will reach terminal limits before 2020 keeping the ultra-fast technology from replacing HDDs.

The study by Professor Mark Kryder and Chan Soo Kim of Carnegie Mellon University, published in IEEE Transactions on Magnetics, showed that in fact most technologies wouldn't be able to compete with HDDs on a cost-per-TB basis by 2020. That is, except for two new technologies: phase change random access memory (PCRAM) and spin transfer torque random access memory (STTRAM).

PCRAM is based on a technology involving heat and chalcogenide glass. Heating the glass switches between both an amorphous and crystalline state that can be used as memory. The downside is this technology takes a lot of power to sustain.

STTRAM uses a spin-polarized current that writes data by reorienting states of a magnetic tunnel. The technology is more power conscious than PCRAM, but at this point it has less potential for higher capacities of data.

Commenting on the study, Kryder said, "We were surprised to find that the study indicated that, even in 2020, HDDs were likely to be considerably less expensive on a cost per terabyte basis than any of the competing technologies."

Kryder also went on to say that he found it surprising that the technical limits and potential of certain technologies weren't reflective of where the industry is investing its research dollars. Rather, Kryder believes the industry invests where they have the most current knowledge.

Kryder hopes the study will focus the industry in evaluating technologies that have significant potential long-term - i.e. PCRAM and STTRAM.

The study can be read in the IEEE Transactions on Magnetics journal, Vol. 45, No. 10, October 2009.

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