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Will spinning disks continue increasing hard disk capacity?

The use of spinning disks has resulted in added capacity, but that can't go on forever. Look into the future of SSDs and disk capacity in this expert answer.

While we may see more capacity increases for spinning disks, this growth in capacity cannot go on forever. To properly...

answer this question, we have to consider the importance of solid-state drives, which may eventually make hard disk capacity a non-issue.

Spinning hard disks have used uniform form factors for decades. In other words, for many years now hard disk capacity has been increasing, even though the physical size of the drive has not increased. Eventually there will come a point at which it becomes physically impossible to cram any additional data into a disk without increasing the disk’s physical size.

Non-solid-state drives (SSDs) store data on spinning platters. That means in order to increase a disk’s capacity the blocks must be shrunk and moved closer together. This means that in addition to shrinking the data footprint, drive manufacturers must also increase the precision of the moving heads so that they can read and write data from the blocks on the disk.

Because the amount of physical space required by a storage block on a disk platter has to shrink in order for disk capacity to increase, disk manufacturers must take steps to prevent any inaccuracies in head or platter movement. HGST, for example, has begun filling disks with helium in an effort to decrease the aerodynamic effect of the spinning platter and the moving head. Otherwise, the aerodynamic effect may skew the moving surfaces just enough to prevent data from being read accurately.

For right now it seems that manufacturers will still be able to increase hard disk capacity, but eventually the laws of physics are going to prevent hard disks from growing in capacity. However, it seems even more likely that SSDs will replace spinning media before we reach that point. SSDs are rapidly increasing in capacity and the cost is coming down, and it will only be a matter of time before simple economics will make SSDs the storage media of choice.

This was last published in January 2015

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Ultimately, it will come down to price. Since SSD is still an order of magnitude more expensive by comparison to similar sized spinning disks, until we reach the tipping point of either price or capacity (meaning the SSD so outweighs the spinning disk on either aspect) I'd expect to see spinning disks remain a viable market for some time (albeit for those uses where lots of storage or speed of access are not paramount).
Ikr Michael. 3½" limits will be met in few years for sure, but gladly Flash technology becomes cheaper faster than HDDs get more capacity.
Well, HDDs are up to 8TB using SMR with 10TB HDDs due this year. Only HGST has made use of helium to increase HDD capacity. Helium is in short supply and it is very hard to contain helium in an enclosure. If the technical hurdles can be overcome, HDDs using HAMR could eventually increase capacity up to 30TB per drive. Intel believes they can rival HDDs capacity with flash SSDs in a couple of years. Currently the largest SSDs are 4TB in size with 1TB SSDs readily available today for about 10x the price of a 1TB HDD. Rather that seeing flash take over the word, I suspect it will be used to augment other storage technologies based on HDD, optical and tape to improve their performance and usefulness in large scale object storage and archiving environments.