Monday, October 30, 2006

New HD technology

That's hard disk technology, not hi-def. Robert Cringely:
Since disk storage is responsible for consuming 30 percent of the energy in your PC and up to 50 percent of the energy in a data center, it seemed to me that this would be a good area to look for improvements. Add to this the problem that in this world of YouTube and Sarbanes-Oxley no data center has enough storage, it becomes clear that we need disk drives that hold more, cost less, and use less energy.

So I found one.

Two old friends of mine, Anil Nigam and Jim White, and their company, Antek Peripherals, Inc., had been working for years on technology for a sort of hyper-floppy drive using metal foil for the recording medium. At the time they were aiming their work toward digital cameras, but I asked if the same technology could be used in a non-removable form inside a computer disk drive? And if it could be used that way, what would be the effect on price, performance, reliability, and energy consumption? The answers were stunning: they could design new families of disk drives that held up to three times as much data in the same space, were more reliable, actually cheaper to build, and used 70-95 percent less energy to run than the current state of the art.
Cringely seems to believe this technology can even compete with flash memory for speed, energy efficiency and durability at one tenth the cost - an astonishing development. It also seems to be compatible with existing technologies, meaning that the perpendicular storage that's already close to delivering 1 terabyte drives for desktops could be tripled.

The 500-gig iPod is not too far away, I think. What is the realistic possibility of controlling digital media in a future where that much data is foot-portable? A hi-speed USB connection would take all of 17 minutes two hours to empty 500g of data, which is a lot but certainly not prohibitive. Say you've decided to collect the raw HDTV versions of your favourite shows. At 20 mbps for uncompressed HDTV signals, that comes to just under 7 gigabytes per episode, or more than 70 45-minute episodes of television on our hypothetical 500g iPod. And this of course assumes that you don't compress the files - you could probably hold 10x as many episodes without significant quality losses.

So assume for a moment that we shut down Internet piracy - torrent sites, P2P sharing, whatever. CDs are still going to be rip-able, TV cards are relatively cheap and allow you to capture TV signals, and I'm not yet prepared to bet on HD-DVD or Blu-ray's encryption being hacker-proof. So it's almost certainly going to be easy to digitize and store media. All you need then is for friends to exchange data in their living rooms.

Suddenly, the Internet is the least-desirable way to get free crap. How can we possibly control data in this world?

(Edited post to correct math error above.)


adam said...

Hmmm, interesting. Seagate has already promised a 2.5 Terabyte drive by 2009, with the jump in capacity mainly coming from perpendicular recording.

I wonder whether the thin platter technique is compatible?

In related news - Bell is finally offering a fibre-optic service in Montreal and Toronto. Mind you, with the cap at 16Mbps, it's still way behind (maximum of 2 megabyte/second download speed).

Ronald Brak said...

HD-DVD or Blu-ray disk, HD TV, HD video camera, streets of Hong Kong and Mombassa maybe thirty minutes after the closing credits.

With a bit of technical knowledge you can make HD quality copies. The protection just slows people down and forces kids to actually learn something before they make copies.