What are the new storage technologies

Technology trends 2021: How hard drives get even more capacity

Ines Walke-Chomjakov

Whether for 4K videos, cloud content, the live stream of the latest action shooter or as infrastructure for the smart home - current applications always require new storage technologies that can keep up in terms of capacity, speed and reliability.

EnlargeWith the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus, the next generation of SSDs in M.2 card format is on the march. It is optimized for the PCIe 4.0 interface and, thanks to the new controller, can also make optimal use of this interface.

The magnetic hard disk will remain important in the server area in 2021 and, thanks to HAMR technology, will break previous capacity limits. Flash memory has even more layers and, as an M.2 SSD, can make better use of the PCIe 4.0 connection.

Disk capacities will continue to rise in 2021: with SSDs through more layers, with HDDs thanks to higher data density.

HDD technology: Even if classic magnetic hard drives are rarely used in notebooks and desktops, HDDs are still the storage medium of choice in data centers. Two methods of increasing capacities are in competition: Microwave-Assisted Magnetic Recording - MAMR for short - is being promoted by WD and Toshiba, while Seagate relies on Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording - HAMR. The goal is always a higher data density without loss of stability and speed losses when reading and writing.

Seagate has long promised the first HDDs with HAMR technology. At the end of 2020, the first model with a capacity of 20 TB came onto the market. With the Exos X20 +, the data bits, which are much smaller than conventional HDDs, are located closer than ever on the very hard carrier. To ensure that data can be written stably, a laser diode on the write head heats the material and thus helps to change polarity quickly and precisely. The manufacturer estimates that the data density can be increased fivefold with HAMR in the optimal case. Seagate plans to increase the capacity to 50 TB by 2026.

EnlargeSeagate uses HAMR technology for HDDs. A laser diode on the write head ensures precise magnetic alignment of the bits. In this way, the density and thus the capacity can be increased without sacrificing stability.

Flash memory: Here, too, it is about higher capacities in the smallest possible space. The example of the US memory manufacturer Micron shows that the demand for this remains high. With the fifth generation, the company is announcing the next level of its own 3D Nand flash memory. Instead of the previously maximum 128 cell layers stacked one on top of the other, the company now has 176 layers. The advanced architecture not only brings the capacities of flash memories to new heights, but also promises faster data transfer speeds.

To do this, Micron uses so-called “Replacement Gates” (RG) of the second generation, a material that conducts better than silicon. Since the individual layers are very thin, the 176-layer chip is about the same height as a variant with 64 layers. The manufacturer speaks of around 30 percent smaller die compared to a counterpart with 96 layers as well as a 35 percent reduction in read and write latency. The new flash variant is a TLC (Triple Level Cell) with three bits per memory cell. Series production is already running, the first SSD models are in the hands of partners and the company's subsidiary Crucial. Market-ready products for industry and end customers are to appear in the course of this year.

EnlargeMicron is now stacking 176 layers on top of each other in the 3D NAND memory - a new record.

M.2 SSDs: Various announcements made last year show that PCIe 4.0, currently the fastest interface variant for NVMe SSDs, is also really picking up speed with products for end customers. Samsung caused a stir with the 980 Pro: the SSD in M.2 card format, thanks to the manufacturer's own flash memory and a controller developed in-house, increases the data rates of the 1 TB version to 7 GB per second for reading and 5 GB per second for writing. This means that it can almost double the transfer speed compared to SSDs with a PCIe 3.0 connection.

Samsung will not move alone in these speed spheres this year. The US manufacturer Sabrent is setting a first example with the Rocket 4 Plus. According to its own information, the 1 TB model should write even faster than Samsung's 980 Pro at 6.85 GB per second. Sabrent realizes the Tempoplus thanks to a combination of TCL-NAND memory and the current controller Phison PS5018-E18. It is a new development and therefore tailored directly to PCIe 4.0. However, the SSD only reaches the top speed if it can also use all four PCIe 4.0 lanes.

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