The future of hard drives is hot


World of Warcraft, 15GB. Rage, 11GB. Steam, potentially hundreds of gigabytes: game installs are getting bigger, and along with HD movies and lossless music make it as easy to fill up a brand new hard drive as it has ever been.

Wonder where you're going to be storing those enormous data files of the future? Try an excitingly named ' energy assisted' or 'heat assisted' hard drive .

Normally, when it comes to PC components, the received wisdom is to keep things as cool as possible. Not so for hard drives, says Western Digital : they're about to get much hotter, with tiny laser or microwave furnaces integrated into the read/write heads to intentionally increase the temperature in certain zones.

Speaking at Western Digital's European Partner Conference, senior vice president for marketing Rich Rutledge told PC Gamer that spinning disk hard drives based on perpendicular storage are reaching their physical limits: "In terms of delivering on future technologies," he said, "We're at the point now where we're required to do that."

That something new isn't going to be flash-based SSDs. They'll remain considerably more expensive than traditional drives for some time Rutledge believes, and therefore used sparingly. For bulk storing all those game and files, magnetic drives will continue to be the storage of choice.

The problem for increasing capacities much beyond their present size is that each activity performed by a drive works best at different temperatures. That becomes more important as bit-sized sites on a drive platter become smaller. By heating up an area under the head, it's possible to increase the accuracy of the write needle. When it cools, it's good for reading. The upshot will be data densities around 10 times what they are today, or around five gigabits per millimetre squared.

Western Digital won't confirm a time scale for the introduction of heat assisted hard drive, but expect to double capacities every two years. An all-industry steering group, the Advanced Storage Technology Consortium is trying to develop a common industry roadmap.