Researchers at Seagate Technology acknowledge that such levels of storage on small, commercial products are still five years to a decade away, but they feel confident they've hit on a way to overcome a major limitation in disk manufacturing and capacity.
Smaller bits on a disk's magnetized surface mean more of them can be packed together, which in turn yields more storage. But it also generates greater heat when a disk is being written to, which can demagnetize bits, rendering them useless. A lubricating layer protects the storage media during normal operations, but heat can also wear away this layer.
Seagate's patent describes a process called heat-assisted magnetic recording, known as HAMR, which involves adding a reservoir to disk casings that contains nanotube-based lubricant molecules. That lubricant is released as needed to replace portions of a disk's lubricating layer that are stripped away by heat over time.
HAMR will boost disk capacity by a factor of at least 10 over the current state of the art in writing data to disks, Seagate chief technical officer Mark Kryder says. The result could be computers, PDAs, and even cell phones equipped with 3.5-inch drives that can store a terabyte of data or more.