Western Digital (WD) is about to get some stiff competition from its main rival Seagate. The two companies control the majority of the spinning media market these days, and have been one-upping each other lately when it comes to storage capacity. WD recently took the capacity crown with its new 26TB hard drives. Now Seagate is set to leapfrog that number with 30TB hard drives it says will arrive a year from now.
The secret to Seagate’s newfound aerial density is its second-generation Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording technology, or HAMR. It’s been using its first generation HAMR since 2018, but never on a high-volume product. The company stated last year that it anticipated its second-generation HAMR would allow for 30TB capacities and beyond. HAMR works by briefly heating up the magnetic media to get bits to flip. The media is heated with a laser to 450 degrees Celsius, then cooled to room temperature in a nanosecond.
Moving to a mass-produced HAMR line of hard drives is a big deal for Seagate. It requires almost an entirely new drive with new media, heads, actuators, and more. The tradeoff is it will pave the way to incredible gains in areal density in the coming years. Seagate’s current 20TB have an areal density of 1.116 Tb/inch2. With HAMR, it can be increased more than twofold to 2.6 Tb/inch2. Eventually it expects to hit 6 Tb/inch2 by 2030. This could theoretically allow for 100TB hard drives, according to Tom’s Hardware.
There is a downside to these gains though. Given how much has to be changed internally for HAMR second-gen, they are expected to be expensive. As such, they might do what they’re doing with HAMR drives now, which is only offer them to select customers in the enterprise and data center markets. If that’s the case, it’s unclear when they might be sold to regular customers.
Despite the difficulties, Seagate is still planning on moving ahead with its plans. Its roadmap indicates it will produce 30TB HDDs next year, followed by 40TB in 2024. By the time we get to 2025, a 50TB hard drive should be available.
News of Seagate’s advancements comes at a difficult time for the magnetic storage industry. Last week a report came out showing shipments of HDDs have declined over 30 percent year-over-year. The main factors for the drop-off include soft demand for PCs along with the ongoing transition to solid-state storage. Still, demand remains steady for data centers, which is where Seagate’s 30TB drives will likely end up, at least initially.