The next big thing in hard disks may be glass

New materials are needed for higher densities, and a Japanese firm thinks it has the solution: glass substrates.

The next big thing in hard disks may be glass
Thinkstock

Hard disk makers are in a big of a struggle for survival. As SSDs grow in capacity and shrink in price, hard disk makers are losing business on the low end. Only the cheapest of laptops don’t have a SSD standard any more. And with affordable 1TB SSDs on the market, it’s a good choice for most desktops, as well. 

Their solution has been to increase capacity tremendously, since people are generating so much content these days. Forget 3TB or 6TB hard disks, we now have 12TB and 14TB drives coming to market. These are done by cramming a lot of disk platters in the drive case and using helium inside the drive to reduce friction.

Even there, drive makers are reaching the limits of physics. But a Japanese firm, Hoya Corp., thinks it has the solution. The company told Nikkei Technology it believes glass substrates, already used in 2.5-inch notebook drives, can be designed for 3.5-inch desktop and server disks. 

Benefits of glass substrates in HDDs

Hoya said it believes the 3.5-inch HDDs will shift from aluminum substrates because glass is more rigid than aluminum, smoother and flatter, all of which makes it possible to put more platters in the drive enclosure. 

The company has already prototyped glass substrates measuring 0.5mm and 0.381mm thick, which would allow a dozen substrates in a single 3.5-inch HDD. The current high-capacity 12TB drives have seven substrates, and your average 3TB drive has two substrates.

Another advantage is that glass is more heat resistant than aluminum, thus it expands less when heated up.  

Hoya has the advantage of prior work in this area, so it’s not starting from square one. It still faces the challenge of going against Western Digital and Seagate, two giants in the field of hard disk storage. They could undertake a similar project and leave Hoya out, but Hoya is a partner with HDD makers and likely won’t be X’ed out if it has something to offer. 

The hard drive makers are already pushing ahead with larger capacity plans. Seagate has a 14TB and 16TB drive in the works and plans for a 20TB drive by 2020. Hoya said it could produce a 20TB drive by 2019. But it will need to be a little more compelling than that to initiate a shift in the manufacturing process away from aluminum.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Must read: 10 new UI features coming to Windows 10