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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.

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