Toshiba reveals 10TB hard drive tech

If your collection of, ahem, fully-legally-downloaded movies and music is swelling beyond the confines of a 2TB drive, then you'll be thrilled by Toshiba's plans to unveil the blueprint for 10TB hard drives later today.

The grand revealing will take place at the Magnetic Recording Conference 2010 in San Diego later today, where Toshiba will show off the first sample of bit-patterned media (BPM). Along with HAMR, bit-patterned media is one of the hot technologies tipped to take hard drive capacity into insane levels of storage. However, this is the first time it's ventured out of the lab and into the outside world.

Toshiba says its sample has an areal density of 2.5Tb/in2. As a point of comparison, the platters in Toshiba's recently announced 1TB MK1059GSM 3.5-inch drive have an areal density of 541.4Gbit/in2. That's almost a fifth of what's possible using Toshiba's bit-patterned media, and the Japanese conglomerate says it's already working on doubling this to 5Tb/in2.

With ten times as much data packed into the same space, we could easily be looking at three-platter 10TB hard drives using the new technology, and even 12.5TB with four-platter drives.

As with today's hard drives, bit-patterned media still relies on magnetic recording. However, as its name suggests, BPM requires a uniform array of dots, or cells, to be pre-etched into the hard drive first. Comparatively, yoday's hard drives instead spread a bit over several magnetic cells.

The sample Toshiba plans to show off today features a 17nm dot pitch, but it's hoping to reduce this all the way down to less than 10nm in the future. Getting a small and intricate pattern etched into the material isn't an easy job, though.

"This size is challenging for the manufacturing process," says Toshiba, "even when cutting-edge semiconductor process technology is used." Toshiba's process involves creating an etching mask from a self-assembled polymer.

However, the company notes that even now "it is difficult to shape an ordered dot array to a complicated structure such as a servo pattern, and a servo pattern is necessary for the read and write operations of a HDD."

Nevertheless, Toshiba claims it's successfully fabricated a servo pattern made of dot arrays, as well as data tracks with ordered dots. "This is the first time anyone has demonstrated the servo-control operation of a recording head flying on a bit patterned media with self assembled dots," says the company.

The next step, according to Toshiba, is to develop the technology to read and write data from and to individual dots.