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New Hybrid Drive Combines Optical and Magnetic Functionality

We're only a few months into 2019 and, thanks to the latest breakthrough by researchers at the Institute of Photonic Integration of the Eindhoven University of Technology – or TU/e – we've already glimpsed the next generation of data storage devices. It's a hybrid drive that utilizes both optical and magnetic technology – and it has the potential to provide levels of speed and energy efficiency that have yet to be seen in consumer data storage devices.

Representatives with TU/e commented on the breakthrough by stating: "Light is the most energy-efficient way of moving information. Yet, light shows one big limitation: it is difficult to store. As a matter of fact, data centers rely primarily on magnetic hard drives. However, in these hard drives, information is transferred at an energy cost that is nowadays exploding."

Although the technology is currently only available for extremely limited demonstrations, researchers hope to lead future efforts in scaling and mass producing their ultra-efficient platform in the near future.

Examining the Breakthrough

Both optical and magnetic technologies have been used for data storage in the past – this is nothing new. However, the two formats have never been successfully combined until now. The result is an architecture that writes data – via a series of brief light pulses that can only be measured by using a femtosecond – directly to the drive's magnetic memory. Not only is it faster than the current generation of data storage devices, but it's also more energy efficient, too.

The premise behind their breakthrough is fundamentally simple. In traditional systems, stored bits are modified as soon as an external magnetic field is applied to the disk. This is what causes a bit to turn from a zero to one or vice versa. With TU/e's new system, however, the magnetic switching is done by a laser pulse. It's a process that's known as all-optical switching.

For comparison, TU/e's breakthrough is capable of achieving speeds from 100 to 1,000 times greater than today's generation of hard drives. It's a rather significant advancement, especially when you consider the amount of data consumers are generating, storing, and processing on a day-to-day basis in the 21st century. As these numbers continue to climb, the need for ultra-fast, ultra-efficient storage devices will undoubtedly see increased market demand.

Mark Lalieu, a current PhD candidate with the Applied Physics Department at TU/e, went into further detail regarding the technology by saying: "The switching of the magnetization direction using the single-pulse all-optical switching is in the order of picoseconds, which is about a 100 to 1000 times faster than what is possible with today’s technology. Moreover, as the optical information is stored in magnetic bits without the need of energy-costly electronics, it holds enormous potential for future use in photonic integrated circuits."

While it will certainly be some time before we see this technology applied on a scale that is fit for consumers, it does provide us with an early glimpse into the future of data storage. To find out more about TU/e, including details on this breakthrough or insight into any of their other endeavors, please visit their official website at {{|}}.


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