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Data Storage Hardware

100x Faster Hard Drive In Lab 180

Posted by kdawson
from the lasers-and-gadolinium dept.
Gary lets us know about research out of the Netherlands that has succeeded in reading and writing a hard disk using polarized laser light. The researchers claim this offers a 100-times speedup over reading/writing using magnets. People have been trying for years to write data using polarized light; the secret of the current work's success lies in its disk's materials — gadolinium, iron, and cobalt. Working prototype drives should be available within a decade.
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100x Faster Hard Drive In Lab

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  • A decade? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster (602015)
    Working prototype drives should be available within a decade.

    Spare me. I've been hearing about incredibly dense optical storage for thirty years now. I have yet to see it.
    • Re:A decade? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by janrinok (846318) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @02:08PM (#19700641)
      Haven't you seen the developments in CDs and DVDs during that last 30 years? Everybody else has! A DVD is an incredible amount of storage when compared to the 5MB (yes MB!) hard drive or even my cassette tapes that I was using in the late 70s.
    • by Fizzl (209397)
      So... We had DVD 30 years back?
      I bet 70's punch card jockeys would have deemed DVD quite something.
    • by janrinok (846318)
      Did you notice that they weren't promising greater storage density, just faster access speeds? This is do-able and still worthwhile.
    • by Kjella (173770)
      Well, if you said 30 years ago you could have 50GB on a dual-layer Blu-Ray disk that'd be "incredibly dense". But magnetic media has been moving even faster than that, and now non-volatile RAM looks to be making great strides. Size is not a big issue as they already have 64GB 1.8" drives - which means many hundred GB in a 3.5" form factor, if only they can bring the price down. Speed issues can presumably be solved by internally RAID'ing together chips as the technology matures. Ten years down the line this
    • Spare me. I've been hearing about incredibly dense optical storage for thirty years now. I have yet to see it.

      I think the article is about magnetic storage.

      In laboratory experiments, they used laser light to write data to a magnetic hard drive at very high speeds.


      So, same drive, but a new way of writing/reading it.
    • > I've been hearing about incredibly dense optical storage for thirty years now. I have yet to see it.

      Why is this modded insightful? TFA refers neither to data density nor optical storage.
    • by Zeio (325157)
      Working prototype drives should be available within a decade.

      Huge reliable solid state storage will have taken over by then. Samsung has 32GB SSDs now.
      ( http://www.samsung.com/PressCenter/PressRelease/Pr essRelease.asp?seq=20060523_0000257520 [samsung.com] )

      Latency is very low, and R/W throughput will increase along with capacity. optical / holographic storage is like ceramics, its always the "future."
    • by ArsonSmith (13997)
      of course, substituting moore's law (is there a similar for hard drives?) to hard drives, they'll be 128 times faster in a decade anyway.
    • No offense, but you can get a 1TB drive the size of two standard bricks. I would call that pretty dense. Forget 30 years, even 8 years ago I would be tickled with the tought of having that much data storage in such a small place. On that note I was happy when the 1gig drive came out.

      So as things progress, by the time I have kids you'll probably be able to get a 100TB drive that fits in the size of single platter HD nowadays.

  • by Dirtside (91468) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @02:07PM (#19700629) Journal
    I think this story is a dupe from, like, 1993.

    Seriously, I can't think of an otherwise plausible tech that's been vaporware longer than light- or holography-based data storage. I know there have been working examples for years, and I think there's even a (really, really expensive, very specialized) production version or two, but come on! How hard can this be?
    • by janrinok (846318)
      No, they are not looking at light- or holography-based storage. They are reading and writing a hard drive using laser. That's not bad from the same people that invented the CD (Phillips). I'm still searching Google to see if the same university provided research support to that earlier achievement. Your question is valid however, I don't know why the promised holographic storage has never been produced in large quantities other than it must be proving to be more difficult that either you or I think it s
    • by commodoresloat (172735) * on Saturday June 30, 2007 @03:05PM (#19700979)

      Seriously, I can't think of an otherwise plausible tech that's been vaporware longer than light- or holography-based data storage.
      Duke Nukem Forever?
    • by toddestan (632714)
      Seriously, I can't think of an otherwise plausible tech that's been vaporware longer than light- or holography-based data storage.

      Storage that uses light to read the data has been around for over 20 years. It's called a CD, maybe you've heard of them?
  • Hard Disk? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mcfedr (1081629)
    Hard Disks are old news...no one is going to be using them in 5 years, let alone 10...flash is so the way forward
    • Re:Hard Disk? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Spy der Mann (805235) <spydermann.slashdotNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday June 30, 2007 @02:34PM (#19700775) Homepage Journal
      Actually in 10 years, flash will ALREADY be obsolete. It'll be replaced by phase-change RAM [wikipedia.org] or Nanotube memory [wikipedia.org].
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Odiumjunkie (926074)
      > Hard Disks are old news...no one is going to be using them in 5 years, let alone 10...flash is so the way forward

      Probably not in the notebook/desktop consumer market, but I can imagine enterprise/research uses for magnetic HDDs where read/write times are less important and $/GB much more so.

      That said, if I'm right, laser-based magnetic storage being faster than current tech won't really matter for that kind of scenario.
      • by Zak3056 (69287)

        Probably not in the notebook/desktop consumer market, but I can imagine enterprise/research uses for magnetic HDDs where read/write times are less important and $/GB much more so.

        If cost/GB were more important than performance, the 5400rpm IDE hard drive would be king of the data center.

        • by toddestan (632714)
          If cost/GB were more important than performance, the 5400rpm IDE hard drive would be king of the data center.

          If they were still available in high capacities, I would be using them a lot. Cooler, quieter, use less energy, cheaper, and generally more reliable. Many mass storage applications do not need a lot of speed, 90% of the data on my computer (music, videos) could be moved to a 5400RPM or even a 3600RPM drive with no noticable impact on performance.
          • by Zak3056 (69287)

            Many mass storage applications do not need a lot of speed, 90% of the data on my computer (music, videos) could be moved to a 5400RPM or even a 3600RPM drive with no noticable impact on performance.

            Note, I said "king of the data center." I agree that the devices are adequate for your application. I disagree with the grandparent's suggestion that price/GB is more important than performance in enterprise computing.

            • by toddestan (632714)
              While I'm sure there are high throughput servers that absolutely need the fastest disks possible, there are other servers just seem to sit around mostly idle. The FTP server really doesn't need a 10K scsi drive, but it seems to have one anyway. Same with the license server and the alarm server. I could probably replace half the drives in a typical datacenter with 5400RPM drives and have no impact on performance as far as the users are concerned. Though admittedly, the best thing would be to just virtual
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Don't think so. Flash is pretty much at its max arial density that it will get, so if you want more bits on a flash chip, you will have to start having a larger physical size.

      Flash is also not a stable read/write medium... write the same sector a couple thousand times, and you won't have a sector anymore.
    • by MrCrassic (994046)

      I highly disagree. So far, it seems that the fastest and most commercially available form of long-term storage technology right now is the hard drive. Flash media is up and coming, but the write operation for these devices are horrifically slow for any sort of hard disk replacement. The closest new breakthrough that will "replace" the hard disk is a "hybrid" hard disk, which is still a hard disk anyway.

      If I were a stock investor, however, I would definitely put my money on these new RAM technologies co

    • by AbRASiON (589899) *
      You're kidding yourself, absoloutely kidding yourself.

      Everytime flash comes even close, hard disks decrease in cost and tripple in available space.
      Please to be showing me the 1TB 90mb write, 60mb read sustained flash drives under 400$ right now.

      Ok show me something even close to that, without read / write cycle problems.

      It's not going to happen, they will always remain behind, at best we'll get little ones in our machines to hold the OS only or something but not the real data.
  • link... (Score:4, Informative)

    by cosmocain (1060326) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @02:11PM (#19700655)
    ...to the original publication [stanciu.nl].

    the really fascinating thing is not THAT they succeeded to change the magnet field via lasers, it's the speed if you compare their figures to this [newscientist.com]
  • Faster how? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DaleGlass (1068434) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @02:19PM (#19700691) Homepage
    The article is unclear on the details. Are they making a hard disk with an optical head? In that case will it really help that much, given the problems with making the disk spin faster, and the seek latency? There are 15K RPM drives already, only they're a bad idea for consumers as they're noisy and require cooling that's not available in most consumer oriented computer cases.

    • by janrinok (846318)
      I guess you didn't RTFA:

      ... they used laser light to write data to a magnetic hard drive at very high speeds. The technique works because the photons transmitted by the laser actually carry angular momentum, allowing them to interact with the hard drive. Also, each laser pulse heats a tiny space on the disk just enough to make changing its polarity--thereby storing a bit of data--a little easier. The key is reversing the polarity of the laser pulses, which can produce the equivalent of either a 1 or a 0 of binary code on the disk storage medium.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DaleGlass (1068434)
        Yes I did.

        Hard disk speed comes from several factors:
        Data density: The more densely it's packed, the more data per second passes under the head
        Rotational speed: The faster it spins, the more data per second passes under the head
        Latency, a combination between the seek latency (how long it takes the disk assembly to move to the location), and rotational latency (how long it takes for the platter to rotate to the required position), determines how long it will will take the disk to start reading data from some
        • by janrinok (846318)
          OK.

          Are they making a hard disk with an optical head?

          Yes. Or at least they are to my interpretation of using a laser to write to the disk. You can be pedantic if you wish but they haven't claimed something that they haven't done.

          And no-one is arguing with any of your other points, which I guess is why they reckon it will take a decade to come up with a workable, deployable solution. Perhaps they are being optimistic but, hey, who knows? The world is full of things that once looked impossible but are now taken for granted. The clever part is that the

          • Well, that's just the thing that makes me wonder if there's any point in going in this direction. Spinning that much faster would require some really good bearings and a platter made of unobtainium (IIRC, at the current speeds, the forces trying to shatter the platter are quite significant already).

            Besides, it seems that the new way of doing this is with Flash or something similar. I wouldn't be surprised if that's what we'll have everywhere 10 years from now. No seek latency, you can get more speed by i

            • by janrinok (846318)
              Perhaps we are not seeing the potential. Maybe the advantage will not, ultimately, be manufactured in hard drive terms. But I suspect that there will be a good few bright people thinking of ways to use the fact that you can change the field on a magnetic medium using a laser. If the read/write speed is increased and size of the magnetic field on the medium is reduced by an order or 2 of magnitude then perhaps someone will have a bright idea of how to convert the theory into a working, usable device. Per
        • by MattBurke (58682)
          If the laser is sitting in the same place as the current magnetic head, then that the head can potentially read/write 100 times faster doesn't really matter, when there's no way the disk itself can be made spin 100 times faster.

          But what if they could make the laser deflect (is there some non-moving way of doing this?) in a tiny but precise arc millions of times a second? With multiple receivers that would enable it to read bits from several tracks during the time it would normally be sitting there waiting f
  • Stupid hype (Score:4, Insightful)

    by imsabbel (611519) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @02:21PM (#19700705)
    Actually, this couldnt have less to do with data storage (you cannot really focus your femto-second laser down to spotsizes lower than what we currently have in HDs, plus there is no real way for a femtosecond source that not bulky, wastefull and expensive).

    On the other hand is the switching of magnetic domains by the polarity of a circular pulse an archivement in itself. But of course fundamental research doesnt interest anybody, so they have to create a stupid "next storage medium" out of it.
  • by geophile (16995) <jao.geophile@com> on Saturday June 30, 2007 @02:23PM (#19700715) Homepage
    The researchers managed to transfer data at intervals of about 40 femtoseconds, or quadrillionths of a second, about 100 times faster than conventional magnetic transfers

    That optimizes a tiny part of the problem. There are two mechanical issues, 1) waiting for the right part of the disk to rotate under the read/write head, and 2) arm motion. Without eliminating one or both of these delays, I don't see how this leads to faster secondary storage access in practice.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by janrinok (846318)
      Which is probably why they said that it will take a decade to produce usable devices. However, that doesn't detract from the discovery or achievement. It is another hurdle passed which will let someone else concentrate on solving the other problems.
      • by geophile (16995)
        Sorry if I wasn't clear -- I was responding to the slashdot writeup, not to the researchers (obviously)
        or the article.
    • Could you not eliminate arm motion with a very fast rotating mirror, constantly passing the laser across the rotating disk? Then you just have the problem of rapidly switching the laser on and off to target the specific track.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by scotch (102596)
        You don't even need a mechanical mirror mover - you can direct and refocus light very quickly using solid state tricks with LCDs that modify their refractive index locally.
    • by kasperd (592156)

      Without eliminating one or both of these delays, I don't see how this leads to faster secondary storage access in practice.

      Those delays may be a bit inconvenient, but they are not a major problem. For more than a decade, we have more or less known how to deal with them. Yes, a bit of research is still happening in this area, mainly for two reasons. We want to do things with disks that we didn't always do, such as virtual memory. The other reason is, that as CPU spees have grown faster than disk speeds, the

      • by Stellian (673475)

        During the last decade the transfer speeds have not grown by a factor of 100.

        I suspect a lot of that can be attributed to the market demand, rather than an actual technological limit. The size of the hard-drive is it's main metric, and the only thing that consumers look at, and of course the engineers will make a compromise size/speed/price.
        At the end of the day, what would you rather have:

        • A fast, 15.000 RPM, 16-Platter, energy hungry beast, that makes a horrifying sound every time you access a file (bec
        • by kasperd (592156)

          I suspect a lot of that can be attributed to the market demand, rather than an actual technological limit. The size of the hard-drive is it's main metric, and the only thing that consumers look at

          It is not just a question of demand, but also what specs are actually provided. In many cases it doesn't say anywhere what the transfer rate on the disk is, that is something you will only know once you have bought the disk. If the manufacturers wanted to, they could tell what the minimum guaranteed transfer speed

      • by Fweeky (41046)

        "I have not yet come across a single disk that could do 100MB/s"
        Seagate Savvio 2.5" 15kRPM SAS disks can manage roughly 110MB/s in good conditions.

        Seagate's next consumer drives, 7200.11, supposedly manage similar serial transfer rates with their 250GB platters, though will of course have massively higher seek times.
    • I'm willing to stop moving my arm for 40 femtoseconds if it will help.
    • I don't think the crucial part is how (well) it works, but that this technology works. It's one of the puzzle pieces that might lead to better mass storage media. Other things will need to be researched as well (as stated in TFA, e.g. increasing the data density), but this definitely sounds promising.

      The cool thing about lasers is that the data can be transmitted through the air/vacuum and is not reliant on quasi-physical contact of the reading/writing head; so while the old "arm over spinning disk" mig
    • by ceeam (39911)
      You're absolute right but think about bits density and as a result the storage capacity!
    • by munch117 (214551)

      There are two mechanical issues, 1) waiting for the right part of the disk to rotate under the read/write head, and 2) arm motion. Without eliminating one or both of these delays, I don't see how this leads to faster secondary storage access in practice.

      You're visualising a conventional harddrive design, with a spinning disc and a read/write arm and all. An optical storage device need look nothing like that.

      One nice thing about optics is that you aren't limited by the speed by which particles travel thr

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @02:32PM (#19700769)

    Gary lets us know about research out of the Netherlands that has succeeded in reading and writing a hard disk using polarized laser light.
    Oh my god, dicking with the polarity actually did fix something! I take back half of the mean things I've said about Wesley Crusher.
    • Scotty predated Wesley by a couple of hundred years. In the episode "That Which Survives", the Enterprise was beamed a thousand light years away by the ancient Kalandan computer. The ship is about to blow up when Spock instructs Scotty to reverse the polarity of his magnetic probe. Of course, that fixed the problem. I have the feeling that all problems in the Star Trek universe can be fixed by the proper application of reverse polarity.
  • by Jamey (10635) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @02:35PM (#19700781) Homepage Journal
    Except that it really doesn't help that much!

    Hard drives have gotten bigger, and bigger, and *BIGGER* over the last 20-30 years. But they don't *FEEL* that much faster. They've become wonders at streaming huge blobs of contiguous data out - so why do databases need huge steaming bloody chunks of RAM cache? Because the random access times *SUCK* and really haven't gotten that much better!

    Capacity has gone from 5MB to 1TB, but spindle speeds have gone from 3600RPM - up to a max of??? 15K RPM for some really expensive drives? Track-to-Track seek hasn't gone up much. Neither has real nor manufacture's claimed throughput rates.

    RAM hasn't nearly kept up with CPUs, either, but the disparity is nothing compared to the hold you get when you have to go after some data from the hard drive that isn't in the cache.

    It's so bad, I strongly considered putting 3 4GB FLASH modules with IDE adapters (RAID5 - but I didn't study this to see if 2 8GB with RAID1 might be better, or other variations) into my new machine on the PATA header to act as the root drive, holding everything but /home, /var, and /tmp.

    Sequential read speed is kinda nice, but I *do* need to do random accesses sometimes! I listen to my nice little 2TB RAID array all the time, as the heads move back and forth singing their little song.
  • Bah HD speed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by silas_moeckel (234313) <silas&dsminc-corp,com> on Saturday June 30, 2007 @02:35PM (#19700787) Homepage
    I can tipple the transfer rate and reduce the average seek time by about the same by using 3 sets of heads. Oh you wanted something thats cost effective please move along. Really though I do not know why they could not use multiple servo motors to at least split the heads already on server class drives, any hardware geeks want to chime in? It seems there is a big push for 2.5 inch SAS drives I cant see why you could not stack some of those platters in a 3.5 and add extra heads and controlling gear? Sure your not speeding up single transfers but your cutting the rotational latency in half and allowing multiple operations at once great for servers.
    • IIRC, the explanation for that I saw was that it's too complicated and does too little good. I think it has even been done, but wasn't successful.

      Inside a hard disk it's pretty cramped already. Adding extra voice coils, arm assemblies, etc. is complicated, adds extra heat output, and increases the probability of a failure. A multihead drive would probably cost more than two normal ones and not have much of an edge performance-wise.
    • by Agripa (139780)
      I suspect using multiple actuators lost out to multiple drives do to economics. When they were introduced, RAID was becoming much more common in the same markets.
    • by Mal-2 (675116)
      I have always wondered why drives couldn't be configured with two independent arm assemblies (in opposite corners of the drive so there is no risk of physical collision) that can function simultaneously, which would allow you to either double the read and write speeds, or cut your rotational latency in half, depending on how you used them. Random seek could also be greatly reduced if one set of heads was seeking for the next transfer while the current transfer is still under way. If the electronics are not
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Fweeky (41046)

        "I have always wondered why drives couldn't be configured with two independent arm assemblies"

        They can, it's just not worth it; it's a lot of additional expense and complexity (and thus reduced MTBF) all for a very low volume part, when most people would prefer you to just make a physically smaller, cheaper disk so they can get more of them when needed.

        Read-write on all platters at once isn't really feasable because the tracks aren't going to line up reliably; leaving aside imperfect manufacturing, components aren't all going to see uniform levels of thermal expansion or vibration, and even microsc

      • by Detritus (11846)
        Seagate used to make several models of drives with two actuators. They never caught on and were discontinued.

        In ancient times, you could get disk drives that had a fixed head for each track, eliminating the need for a head actuator. They were very fast, but their storage density was low.

        Modern track densities have made it impractical to have more than one head active at a time. Each active head needs its own independent positioner, servo channel, and read-write electronics.

        I've seen mainframe disk dri

    • There was dual actuator drive on the market a number of years ago. It turned out to be so much of a niche product that it cost more than two competing standard drives, which give you the same throughput and twice the capacity.
  • Ten Years (Score:4, Funny)

    by Kuvter (882697) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @02:46PM (#19700865) Homepage

    Working prototype drives should be available within a decade.
    Sweet, just around the time Starcraft 2 and Duke Nukem Forever come out.
  • by binaryspiral (784263) on Saturday June 30, 2007 @02:51PM (#19700897)
    Where's my flying car? Damn it - it's still in the labs.

    • by mjolnir_ (115649)
      Hey, they promised me a flying car too!
    • "Where's my flying car? Damn it - it's still in the labs."

      To be fair, that's not strictly a technical problem. I'm amazed they even let people drive their own personal cars.
      • by joto (134244)

        "Where's my flying car? Damn it - it's still in the labs."
        To be fair, that's not strictly a technical problem. I'm amazed they even let people drive their own personal cars.
        To be fair, that is a technical problem. There's no reason (beyond technical) for letting people drive their own cars. If you can come up with a technical solution that is better, please do!
        • "If you can come up with a technical solution that is better, please do!"

          Technically the FAA wouldn't let me do that. Oh.. hey.. when I put it that way, you're right, it is a 'technical' problem!!

          • by joto (134244)

            Last time I checked, FAA was standing for Federal Aviation Administration. And I can assure you that they will never make any hindrances for you in creating a car that isn't driven by a person. Now, if you are talking about planes, they might become more interested. But if you can show them that your way is better, I'm sure they'll change their minds. So what was your solution again?

            Arguing that we haven't got flying cars because of FAA restrictions on who is allowed to pilot a plane, is about as stupid a

      • flying cars have many problems some strictly techincial, some human factors and some political.

        the key techical problem is how to make something that is as narrow as a regular car that is capable of flying, is safe and is not an insane gas guzzler. Removable or folding wings are a possibility (and i beleive flying cars like that do exist) but they mean you need a wide runway to take off just as with a regular light aircraft. They also mean an extra point of failure. Flying without wings is extremely gas guz
  • How noisy is it? For me it's far more important that a hard drive be quiet and well-behaved than it be fast. From what I remember from James Bond and other movies, lasers are pretty damn loud.
  • I have RTFA and cannot see where this group has successfully read data from the drive with a laser. All it talks about is writing.
  • ... I knew this would happen if I went ahead and ordered my Macbook Pro!
  • According to the article, it will take several years to write using this technology, even if you start right now. I'll stick with my current HD, thank you very much.
  • We're already producing solid state drives with practically nil seek time, no moving parts, and quite potentially a much longer lifetime than a moving-parts drive.
  • There's always always a new disk technology around the corner, something finally bigger, faster, better than magnetic, it's always 5 years away.

    Honest guys! the 2TB holographic drive, with 3 lasers (top,front side) into something the size of a sugar cube is coming!
    (I heard that one nearly 10 years ago)

    Seagate, WD, Fujitsu, Hitachi would / will / have / may band together to hold any tech like this back or at least 'stagger' the release of it.

    If they ever _EVER_ release a disk under 500$ US which is say 4x
  • Gary lets us know about research out of the Netherlands that has succeeded in reading and writing a hard disk using polarized laser light.
    To those modders who like installing plexiglass/perspex windows on their hard drives to see inside them while they are operating, might I suggest they keep their Dremels away from these models?
  • Not to sound like a troll. But do you think we'll still be using hard drives in 10 years? I was hoping by then we'd have something like solid state drives at an affordable rate to be more realistic. But to fantasize a bit, maybe HD's will be replaced by odd shaped crystals and some 3d rotating laser. Even that isn't too far fetched. There was an article a year or two ago, where NASA had a research project on the ISS where they were building custom crystals (something about zero G and crystalization) anyway,

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