How a Laser Could Make Your Hard Drive 1,000 Times Faster

The reason people are so pumped about solid-state hard drives right now is because they're super-speedy. But if you think your SSD is fast, just wait until a new breed of laser-based hard drives comes to market.

A team of scientists has demonstrated an amazing new way of writing data to magnetic storage devices. It uses lasers, and it can write data to disk about 1,000 times quicker than a normal spindle hard drive. We're talking gigabytes — maybe even terabytes — a second here. How the hell?

What the researchers have actually found is that heating can be used to write information, and it turns out lasers can be used to do the heating extremely efficiently. The findings appear in Nature Communications. Dr Alexey Kimel, one of the researchers, told PhysOrg:

"For centuries it has been believed that heat can only destroy the magnetic order. Now we have successfully demonstrated that it can, in fact, be a sufficient stimulus for recording information on a magnetic medium."

Using 60 femtosecond pulses of laser — that's a duration of 60 quadrillionths of a second — it's possible to rapidly heat a tiny section of the ferrimganetic material that you find in hard drive platters. That heating can change the state of magnetization, meaning that data can be encoded. All in, each write takes less than 5 picoseconds — 5 trilltionths of a second. That's how the technique can reach scorching data writing rates of gigabytes per second.

There has to be a catch though, right? There's always a catch.

Sadly, yes, there is. While the concept for writing data is solid, the team hasn't yet worked out how it can then read back the data quickly. Seeing as it would be a shame to have your read times a factor of a thousand different to your write times, that aspect is still going to need some work. [Nature Communications and PhsyOrg; Image: The Webhamster]