IBM wowed crowds at CeBIT last week with a storage device that can achieve data densities of more than one terabit per square inch — that's 19.2GB per square centimetre.
The prototype of the Micro-electrical-mechanical system (MEMS) can hold the equivalent of 25 DVDs on an area the size of a postage stamp, IBM claimed.
IBM researchers in Zurich have affectionately named the device the Millipede, because it has thousands of very fine silicon tips that can "punch" individual bit patterns onto a thin film of polymer. The Millipede uses the tips to create "pits" or bit patterns, approximately 10nm wide to represent the stored data. IBM says that the principle is similar to the older technology of data punch cards, but the Millipede can also erase and re-write data.
"A single Millipede can hold 600,000 digital camera images on something the size of a postage stamp, which is quite exciting" said an IBM spokesman. "I think this represents a new and realistic way to store huge amounts of data on a small device."
A Millipede has more than 4,000 tips within a 6.4mm-sided square. The device works by heating the tips and stamping a pattern onto the polymer.
IBM said back in 2002 that it was working on the Millipede. At CeBIT last week, the company demonstrated the mechanics of the chip through a video microscope that showed how the polymer surface moves across the tips.
IBM said the device is suited for mobile devices such as digital cameras, mobile phones and USB sticks.
However, the device is still in the stages of research and will not be available for at least two years.
"We're some way from making it available to the consumer," IBM added. "We've no plans to bring it to market for a couple of years."