Scientists post a lower speed limit for magnetic recording

May 17, 2004
Magnetic recording

The speed of magnetic recording -- a crucial factor in a computer's power and multimedia capabilities -- depends on how fast one can switch a magnet's poles. An experiment at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL) found that the ultimate speed of magnetic switching is at least 1,000 times slower than previously expected. The result, which appears in the April 22 issue of the journal Nature, has implications for future hard disk computer drive technologies.

In the push toward ever-faster magnetic recording, experts expected to find a physical limit, a threshold speed beyond which materials would respond chaotically. "If you had asked me a year ago, 'How fast does one have to create a pulse that does not switch magnetization?' my answer would have been one femtosecond (one thousandth of a trillionth of a second)," said Professor Joachim Stöhr, deputy director of SSRL. "Chaotic behavior was not expected in this experiment, which ran in the picosecond (trillionth-of-a-second) range."

In a computer hard drive, a writing head hovers over a disk that's rapidly spinning -- at up to 15,000 rotations per minute, or 150 times faster than a CD player. An electric current running in the head creates a magnetic field, which records data by turning tiny areas of the disk's surface into microscopic magnets. The disk is coated with a special, grainy material that allows only two, opposite directions of the magnetization, representing the 0 or 1 of a basic unit of data, or bit. High recording speed requires the coating material to respond and switch its poles quickly enough to record each bit reliably.

The challenge now will be to understand why the maximum speed seems to be at least 1,000 times lower than expected. The explanation, Siegmann said, could lie in the way thermal motion interacts with the magnetization process.

The limit on recording speed must be somewhere between 100 billion and a trillion bits per second, but is unlikely to ever affect technology, said Seagate's Weller. State-of-the-art drives can now record about 1 billion bits per second, and long before that speed can be increased 100-fold, other physical constraints will get in the way, he said. In particular, higher speed requires smaller magnetic grains, but their size cannot go below the size of atoms.

The SSRL result could be an important step toward understanding the basic physics of data recording, leading to the development of entirely new technologies. A promising idea, Weller said, is heat-assisted recording, where a small section of the recording medium is temporarily brought to a high temperature, to speed up its magnetization reversal.

Read more technical details about experiment on Stanford University News web-site.

Explore further: NASA's MMS formation will give unique look at magnetic reconnection

Related Stories

New X-ray actions revealed

July 23, 2015

Potentially destructive high-energy electrons streak into Earth's atmosphere from space, not as Shakespeare's "gentle rain from heaven," but at velocities approaching the speed of light.

Recommended for you

New device converts DC electric field to terahertz radiation

August 4, 2015

Terahertz radiation, the no-man's land of the electromagnetic spectrum, has long stymied researchers. Optical technologies can finagle light in the shorter-wavelength visible and infrared range, while electromagnetic techniques ...

The resplendent inflexibility of the rainbow

August 4, 2015

Children often ask simple questions that make you wonder if you really understand your subject. An young acquaintance of mine named Collin wondered why the colors of the rainbow were always in the same order—red, orange, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.