Hitachi makes 4TB hard disk breakthrough

Today's 1-terabyte drives will eventually be replaced by 4-terabyte versions

Hitachi scientists are claiming a breakthrough in hard disk drive technology that means desktop hard drive capacity will rise to four terabytes (4TB) by 2011. A 4TB drive could hold one million songs.

Hitachi reckons the development truly heralds the arrival of the "terabyte era" as we'll also get 1TB drives in laptops.

Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) says it has been able to achieve this by shrinking the size of the hard disk's read head so it's now 2,000 times thinner than a human hair. It has developed Current Perpendicular-to-the-Plane Giant Magneto-Resistive (CPP-GMR) heads that are as little as 30 nanometers in width - that compares with current Tunnel Magneto-Resistive (TMR) head widths of around 70 nanometres.

Hitachi's major breakthrough has been to increase the head's ability to read data despite a shrinking size. Previously making the head smaller had increased noise and made for a less reliable read. Now, the researchers have added a magnetic film to the read head that has increased the ability to interpret data.

"Hitachi continues to invest in deep research for the advancement of hard disk drives as we believe there is no other technology capable of providing the hard drive's high-capacity, low-cost value for the foreseeable future," says Hiroaki Odawara, research director at Hitachi.

No wonder he's chuffed; solid state flash storage was meant to be forging ahead of hard drives by now. Instead, flash remains an expensive commodity, while research continues to push drive capacity way beyond what is achievable with flash.

That's not all - 3TB by 2010

"This is an achievement for consumers as much as it is for Hitachi," enthused Odawara. "It allows Hitachi to fuel the growth of the 'Terabyte Era' of storage, which we started, and gives consumers virtually limitless ability for storing their digital content."

But Hitachi isn't alone. Western Digital has also said it is packing in the terabytes, with a 3TB drive slated for 2010. The company is saying that it has achieved the "industry's highest demonstrated density" capable of writing 520 GB of data per square inch. That works out at 640GB per drive platter.

However, this could be put in the shade by Hitachi's estimates. Hitachi believes its new heads will be able to write between 500GB and 1 TB per square inch of disk surface, four times the data density possible with current drive technologies.


Dan (Twitter, Google+) is TechRadar's Former Deputy Editor and is now in charge at our sister site Covering all things computing, internet and mobile he's a seasoned regular at major tech shows such as CES, IFA and Mobile World Congress. Dan has also been a tech expert for many outlets including BBC Radio 4, 5Live and the World Service, The Sun and ITV News.