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IBM and Sony spruce up magnetic tape

by on03 August 2017

Storing 201 gigabits of data per square inch

IBM and Sony boffins have emerged from their smoke filled labs with a new magnetic tape system capable of storing 201 gigabits of data per square inch.

This means a small cartridge can have a max theoretical capacity of 330 terabytes and store rather a lot of porn. The world's largest hard drives are the 12TB HGST helium-filled HDD and commercially available tapes only store 15TB.

Sony developed a new type of tape that has a higher density of magnetic recording sites, and IBM Research worked on new heads and signal processing tech to actually read and extract data from those nanometre-long patches of magnetism.

Sony's cunning plan involves improved lubricant to keeps it running smoothly – and the tape. It also has a new type of magnetic layer. Usually, a tape's magnetic layer is painted on, which is one of the reasons that magnetic tape is so cheap and easy to produce in huge quantities. In this case, Sony has instead used sputter deposition, a mature technique that has been used by the semiconductor and hard drive industries for decades to lay down thin films.

IBM's new read head, which appears to be a 48nm-wide tunnelling magneto-resistive head that would usually be found in a hard disk drive. This is combined with new servo tech that precisely controls the flow of tape through the system, allows for a positional accuracy of under 7nm. A new signal processing algorithm helps the system make sense of the tiny magnetic fields that are being read by the head.

The new cartridges, when they are eventually commercialised, will be significantly more expensive because of the tape's complex manufacturing process.

Last modified on 03 August 2017
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