Future solid state disks may finally be able to catch up with the large capacities of mechanical hard drives, thanks to an ingenious project by a scientist at the North Carolina State University.
Dr Jay Narayan has developed a silicon storage chip that stores data in magnetic nanodots, or quantum dots; tiny structures that can measure just 6nm in diameter. Each nanoscale dot stores a single bit of data, but you can squeeze so many dots onto a small area of silicon that the university says that a single chip can “store an unprecedented amount of data.”
Dr Narayan says that the technology could enable you to “store over one billion pages of information in a chip that is one square inch.” That’s pages in terms of books, by the way, so how much is this in terms of bits and bytes?
Speaking to Thinq, Dr Narayan explained that "one terabit can store 250 million pages." According to Dr Narayan, "at 10nm per bit, 1cm square stores one terabit." As such, the billion pages would be made up of four square centimetres of silicon, providing four terabits of storage. That's basically 512GB in just one small chip, and you could squeeze in much more data than that if the dots had a diameter of just 6nm.
The university explains that the nanodots are “made of single, defect-free crystals, creating magnetic sensors that are integrated directly into a silicon electronic chip.” The nanodots are all positioned uniformly with strict precision, ensuring that they can be read and written to reliably.
In theory, the chips shouldn’t be too expensive to make, and the university says that they can be “manufactured cost-effectively.” However, this is still a really early technology, and developments still need to be made.
“The next step is to develop magnetic packaging that will enable users to take advantage of the chips,” says the university, “using something, such as laser technology, that can effectively interact with the nanodots.”
It doesn't look as though we'll have to wait long for the technology to become widely available, though. We asked Dr Narayan when he could see this method overtaking traditional solid state disk technology, and he replied: "five years or sooner!" Watch this space.