Fujitsu breaks IBM mark for magnetic disk storage

Fujitsu said yesterday that it has set a new world record for hard-drive storage technology with a new magnetic recording technology that can hold over 20 billion bits (G bits) of information per square inch.

Fujitsu's announcement comes only a week after IBM reported that it had broken the 20G-bit-per-square inch mark with its own magnetic storage technology. But Fujitsu's technology can pack 20.4G bits on a square inch, whereas IBM's can only hold 20.3G bits of data, giving the Japanese company the new world record by a slim margin, according to a spokesman at Fujitsu's Tokyo headquarters.

The Fujitsu technology would allow a typical 3.5-inch hard drive to hold around 27G bytes of data, the equivalent of about 20 TV-quality movies or over 25,000 novels, Fujitsu said. The storage on such a hard drive would be more than three times as dense as top-of-the-line storage devices today.

Though the technology is still in the experimental stage, the company plans to build products using the technology as early as next year, the Fujitsu spokesman said.

The Fujitsu technology uses a recording medium based on a cobalt-platinum-based alloy that is especially resistant to heat degradation. Though the company has used cobalt and platinum in storage technology before, about 10 percent of the data on previous versions decayed after 10 years. The current alloy will only degrade 5 percent per decade at the highest temperatures a disk drive can produce, according to the company.

The Japanese vendor has also developed a new, second-generation GMR (giant magneto-resistive) head to read the densely-packed medium, which Fujitsu says is two times more sensitive than previous GMR heads.

GMR heads read off the "spin" of the electrons in a recording material, allowing the data in magnetic storage devices to be packed much closer together than in silicon-based memory chips. Electrons spin either up or down as they revolve around the nucleus of an atom.

As magnetic-based systems grow in capacity and increasingly outstrip the capabilities of silicon, magnetic storage systems are being acknowledged by some industry observers as the storage medium of the future. Data density on magneto-resistive devices like ones announced by Fujitsu and IBM has increased by more than 60 percent a year since the devices were first developed, according to IBM.

IBM, which built the first magneto-resistive head for reading data in 1991, expects its 20G-bit products to become available within three years.

Both companies said that the technical details of their new technologies will be unveiled at the International Magnetics Conference (Intermag 99) which started on Tuesday and runs through until Friday in Kyongju, South Korea.

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