IBM's magic dust ups disk space

IBM developing a technology that it says will quadruple the capacity of a disk drive and dramatically increase the amount of data that can be stored on disk.

The company is adding a new type of magnetic coating, called ruthenium, to its current disk drives. The ruthenium is layered between the two magnetic layers of the disk platter. IBM refers to ruthenium as "pixie dust," but it is also known as antiferromagnetically coupled (AFC) media. The technology can be implemented without redesigning current disk drive plants, IBM claims.

By 2003, each disk drive made with AFC technology will be able to store 100G bits per square inch, the company says. The technology is most likely to be used first in notebook hard disks, although it should eventually move across all IBM product lines. Shipping implementations contain up to 25.7G bits per square inch.

The technology is expected to be helpful for storing digital music, presentations and videos, while consuming less memory, IBM says. The company claims that within 2 years, 100G-bit density would allow 400G-byte desktop drives, 200G-byte notebook drives and 6G-byte or 13 hours of MPEG-4 compressed digital video in handheld devices, the equivalent of eight movies.

Magnetic hard drive density doubled every 18 months through 1996; since 1998, it has doubled every 12 months.

The company says it will be sharing the technology with other vendors.