Western Digital this week said that its energy-assisted magnetic recording (ePMR) and OptiNAND technologies coupled with increased number of platters per hard drive would enable it to build HDDs with an up to 30 TB capacity. To keep advancing capacities from there, the company will need to use heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), it revealed. Meanwhile, noticeably absent was any mention of microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR), the technology that was expected to precede HAMR. 

Building a 22TB HDD for 2022

Last month Western Digital's began shipping its top-of-the-range Ultrastar DC HC560 20TB and WD Gold 20TB hard drives that rely on nine 2.2 TB ePMR platters and feature the company's OptiNAND technology that uses an embedded flash drive (EFD) to increase performance, reliability, and usable capacity of an HDD. 

To boost capacity of its next-generation hard drives further, Western Digital can either install disks with a higher areal density or increase the number of disks per drive. Both approaches have their challenges (higher areal density might require new heads, whereas an additional platter requires usage of thinner media and mechanical parts), but it looks like the company has a way to put 10th disk into a 3.5-inch HDD.

"We are able to deliver our 20TB on nine platters, we can add the 10th [disk], and we get another 2.2TB of storage," said David Goeckeler, chief executive of Western Digital (via SeekingAlpha), at the 5th Annual Virtual Wells Fargo TMT Summit Conference.

Building a 22TB HDD on a 10-disk platform is a viable way to offer some additional capacity for its customers and stay competitive in 2022. But Western Digital's existing technologies have a considerably more serious potential. 

Up to 30TB

When Western Digital introduced its OptiNAND technology earlier this year, it talked about its benefits (which include performance, reliability, and capacity) but did not really quantify them. This week the company finally spilled some beans on the potential of its ePMR technology combined with OptiNAND. As it turns out, it can build 30 TB hard drives using what it already has: ePMR, OptiNAND, and a 10-platter 3.5-inch HDD platform. This will require it to increase areal density of its ePMR disks by about 36%, which is significant.

"So, we really have that staircase to take you to 30TB and then you get on the HAMR curve and you go for quite a bit longer," said Goeckler. "So, I think it is a really good roadmap for the hard drive industry."

MAMR Axed?

For years Western Digital envisioned that its MAMR technology as a key enabler of its hard drives with an up to 40TB capacity. In 2019 it introduced its ePMR technology that was considered to be a half-way towards MAMR, but since then the company has barely mentioned MAMR at all.

When it announced its OptiNAND technology, Western Digital mentioned MAMR as one of the energy-assisted magnetic recording options it was looking at, but did not reveal any actual plans. At the virtual Wells Fargo summit, Western Digital stressed that HAMR was a key enabler for its future HDDs that have capacity of over 30TB, but did not talk about MAMR at all. 

"HAMR is extremely important, great technology, it is still several years away before it is commercialized, and you can bet your datacenter on it," said Goeckler. "We have heavily invested in HAMR. I think you know we have over 400 patents in HAMR. [If] you are a supplier of hard drives in an industry this big, you are going to [invest] in a number of different technologies that you think is going to fuel your road map. So, we are a big believer in HAMR."

If Western Digital can keep expanding capacity of its hard drives with its ePMR technology for a few years before it can roll out its first HAMR-based drives, then it does not need to commercialize its MAMR technology at all since HAMR has considerably better scalability in terms of aerial density. 

Like every new magnetic recording technology, MAMR and HAMR need to be evaluated by Western Digital's customers before getting to mass production, which takes time. Therefore, it is not in the company's interests to introduce new HDD platforms or new recording technologies too often as this slowdowns adoption of its drives by clients as well as revenue growth.

We have reached out to Western Digital to clarify its plans for MAMR, but the company has yet to respond to our request.

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  • mode_13h - Friday, December 17, 2021 - link

    > it sounds like they are lying

    If they were lying, there would be a big board *full* of expensive NAND chips attached to the HDD, and it would be much more expensive. This isn't something you can fudge.

    > if its increasing capacity, user data is inherently stored there.

    Are you more interested in being stubborn or actually learning something. The article I linked is fairly clear about what sort of information it holds. I'm not going to spoon-feed you more quotes, when you can just go read it, yourself.

    > My guess is they are using parity to cover data loss

    Disks have already done that for *decades*!! There's no real advantage to be had from moving that to NAND storage.

    > They won't disclose exactly how it works.

    Did you try reading what they *did* disclose?

    > what they HAVE disclosed if they are going to make 30TB drives using 22TB platters.

    As flyingpants265 already mentioned, this is to be accomplished by "increasing areal density of its ePMR disks by about 36%". So, that will make them 3 TB platters.
  • Silver5urfer - Friday, December 3, 2021 - link

    Western Digital is scum. I just discovered they removed Helium from all HDDs lower than 12TB. Including WD Gold, I think this happened in 2020. Since all the drives I have are from 2019. I had a DOA from WD which was made in 2020 but had no Helium for a 10TB Red Pro.

    I have an 8TB Red CMR from Easy Store which has Helium, damn HGST had even 4TB drives with Helium filling. Now if consumer wants Helium they have to pay a ton of cash. HAMR is only there for 16TB and 18TB drives in WD Gold Portfolio or Ultrastar DC since Red maxes out at 14TB. Note, WD Red has higher 65C max operating temp while Gold is at 60C max and higher sound levels.

    Insane segregation, they are real trash and sadly due to HGST technology they are the reliable option until Seagate proves themselves. Also speaking of Seagate I think their Ironwolf recently got Helium treatment.
  • ksec - Friday, December 3, 2021 - link

    >I just discovered they removed Helium from all HDDs lower than 12TB

    Because those doesn't need to pack as many disc? I am not even sure WD ever mentioned those model had helium in the first place?
  • Silver5urfer - Friday, December 3, 2021 - link

    The Physical drives do not have breather holes. That's the best way to check if the drive is Helium filled or not. After HGST acquisition WD made all the WD Red with Helium only because that's how HGST technology existed. By 2019 and 2020 that got changed. Next with He you get lower power consumption, naturally lower power consumption = less heat and more longevity.
  • mode_13h - Saturday, December 4, 2021 - link

    I agree with ksec, that maybe what changed is the number of platters. With fewer platters you have less surface area and thus less drag. That lessens the need/benefit of helium.
  • mode_13h - Saturday, December 4, 2021 - link

    > I just discovered they removed Helium from all HDDs lower than 12TB

    Helium is a non-renewable resource. If the drive can still hit its operational parameters without it, then it's better not to use it. Its price has also gotten increasingly volatile, in recent years.

    > due to HGST technology they are the reliable option

    Didn't HGST also bring 2nd gen SMR technology, ushering in the wave of SMR consumer drives?
  • willis936 - Monday, December 6, 2021 - link

    Non-renewable in what sense? The Earth is making more of it than we currently consume and will be for at least millions of years.
  • mode_13h - Tuesday, December 7, 2021 - link

    But it's not being produced where we can easily get it. We've had a glut of helium supply because it's a byproduct of natural gas extraction, but that won't continue forever.

  • Zoolook - Monday, December 13, 2021 - link

    No it does not, there is an abundance in space and in the sun, but on earth not so, it's only created by radioactive decay and about a tenth of what we use yearly is created yearly, see an issue here?

    Currently we are using old helium trapped together with natural gas in rock far beneath the surface but we will run out of that, so until we learn to harvest it from outside our atmosphere it is a limited resource.
  • mode_13h - Friday, December 17, 2021 - link

    > until we learn to harvest it from outside our atmosphere

    Pfft. There's no way that's ever going to be cost-effective. It'd always be cheaper to scrounge for a little more, underground.

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