The highlight of the year for most techies is the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held at the beginning of every year in Las Vegas. It’s where big brands showcase their upcoming products and their latest technology. It’s also where up-and-coming brands show that they have what it takes to compete with the big boys. Japan’s Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies (CEATEC), which is held in the first week of October, is fast proving to be a worthy complement to CES, giving techies two major events to look forward to.

20TB is exciting news for hoarders

One of the most exciting technology previews to emerge from CEATEC 2013 was the 20 terabyte (TB) hard disk drive (HDD) that Seagate and TDK are hoping to have on the market by 2016. This is a major leap from the 4TB hard drives that are currently available.

The technology can’t come soon enough, according to Stephen Lawson, from IDG News Service, because hard disk drives are about to reach their limit. The physical data limit for HDDs is 1TB per square inch per platter, and current drives are already on about 750GB of data per square inch. Current HDDs are limited by their physical cell size and data density. According to Iddo Genuth, data storage cells change polarity so that they can accommodate more data. But, they can only be made so small before they become unstable and start changing polarity on their own.

There’s nothing a HAMR can’t fix

Fortunately, as Seagate and TDK have proved, the problem is not insurmountable. All you need is heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR).

On current hard disk drives data is written to the platters at normal temperatures, which limits data density. According to Lawson, HAMR uses a laser to heat the area where data is being written, which allows for denser storage. Naturally, the denser the storage capacity, the more data can be stored.

The HAMR drive Seagate and TDK demonstrated at CEATEC is nowhere near its full potential yet. At the moment they’re still trying to break through what Lawson calls the 1TB ceiling. But, according to Seagate’s Chief Technology Officer Mark Re, they’re hoping to have a stable 20TB hard drive on the market by 2020. They’re hoping to have a smaller HAMR drive on the market much earlier than that, however, by 2016, at least.

Don’t get your hopes up too high just yet, though, as skeptics think that the technology is still too challenging with too many kinks for HAMR drives to be on the market before 2017, if manufacturers are lucky.

Patience is a virtue

Two years (give or take a few months) may sound like a long time to wait for uber-hard drives, but consider that the technology has been 30 years combined in the making. Consider also the growing importance of data in all sectors of business and you can understand why manufacturers want to get everything right before they unleash their storage monsters on the enterprise market.

That’s not to say that large-scale business enterprises are the only ones that will benefit from major data storage capacity. There are plenty of private individuals who could manage to fill 20TB, or thereabouts. Just think of all the people who collect every TV series since Mork and Mindy, and who have to have every music album ever made since Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene”, and whose film collections are so vast they have to be spread across a handful of external hard drives.

What about cost?

Surely one can expect to pay a small fortune for a hard drive that allows one to store a whopping 20TB of data? Maybe not.

According to Mark Re, HAMR drives will cost more or less the same as the HDDs currently available. And that is good news indeed.

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