Seagate demos HAMR tech to produce 20TB hard drives by 2020

Heat-assisted magnetic recording can blast through current data density limits, but don't expect drives using the technology before 2016.

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At the CEATEC 2013 show in Tokyo this week, Seagate is demonstrating a new technology that could breathe new life into the old magnetic hard drive.

Using current technology, the data density of a typical hard drive platter is expected to max out at about 1 terabit per square inch, which means that not a lot more terabytes of data will be squeezed into traditional hard drives.

Enter heat-assisted magnetic recording. As its name suggests, HAMR works by heating the platter area with a laser to make it possible to increase the data density significantly. How much? According to Seagate, the limit could jump from 1 terabit to 5 terabits per square inch.

That could mean that 20TB hard drives will be possible, a fivefold increase in capacity from the biggest drives offered today. Unfortunately, Seagate doesn't expect one of those drives to be commercially available until 2020, and the first HAMR-based drives aren't expected on the market until 2016.

Nonetheless, Seagate is displaying a 2.5-inch prototype HAMR drive spinning at 10,000rpm at CEATEC. It may not be as sexy as the latest innovations in solid-state drives, but the ability for manufacturers to wring more capacity out of that storage standby, the humble hard drive, after all these years is remarkable, too.