IBM plans to announce today that it has broken the magnetic disk-drive storage barrier of 10 billion bits of data per square inch. The company said the new technology would first appear in products in 2001.
IBM passed the 1 billion bit level in April 1996. Like that advance, the new technology will first be used in 2.5-inch, nonremovable disk drives intended for use in portable computers. At this size, a single-platter disk drive will be able to hold 6.5 gigabytes of data, enabling very slim laptop computers to have vast storage capacity. A 3.5-inch platter will hold 12 to 13 gigabytes.
A gigabyte is a billion bits, equivalent to 62,500 double spaced, typewritten pages -- which would be 21 feet tall if stacked. At the new record density -- actually 11.6 gigabits per square inch [1.8 billion bits per square centimeter] -- every square inch of disk space could hold 1,450 average-size novels or more than 725,000 pages of double-spaced typewritten pages, which would make a stack taller than an 18-story building.
While such advances in storage technology have been driven by high speed supercomputers and huge mainframes, in recent years it has been the ever-increasing demands of desktop and laptop computer users that have spurred the disk-drive industry on to record densities. Downloading graphic images from the Internet, or loading CD-ROM games to the hard disk for faster play uses up vast amounts of storage capacity.
"Demand for storage is essentially insatiable; it's only budgets that are finite," said Currie Munce, director of storage systems and technology at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif. "As we get more mobile, and expect information at our fingertips, we're going to be more focused on our data, where it's stored and how we get access to it."
The computer industry is commonly said to be driven by Moore's Law: Intel co-founder Gordon Moore's observation that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every 18 months.
But it has also been driven by the hard disk-drive industry's ability to increase storage density by about 60 percent every year since 1991. This increase has come about through improvements to magnetic heads, disk surfaces and the mathematical codes that govern the drives.
"IBM's been the company that has instituted most of these gains," said Jim Porter, president of Disk Trend, a market research firm.
"The rest of the industry has been a bit behind IBM, and yet they've done quite well," he said, adding that he expects the company to ship its new product in 2000, not 2001, at least six months before any competitor. "It gives IBM the opportunity to sell a product mix with a little bit better profit margins."
Pub Date: 12/30/97