R&D managers at Hitachi and Seagate said they are working both on HAMR and patterned media and see MAMR as a more distant possibility. A spokesman for Seagate said the company has intellectual property relating to MAMR, "but we feel that HAMR or patterned media are more viable approaches."
Currently Seagate feels there is "maybe a little advantage for HAMR," said Mark Re, senior vice president of recording media operations at Seagate.
That's because drive makers like Seagate already make their own heads. The HAMR approach only entails the 30 to 40 cent cost of buying a laser diode for each of the one to ten heads in a drive.
However, Seagate has not figured out how to integrate the laser and the head. "That's not a show stopper, because clearly DVD players integrate laser diodes into very cheap players," Re said.
Senior vice president recording media operations, Seagate
By contrast, patterned media requires several new process steps and new equipment—such as nano-imprinting lithography—that must come from third parties. Talking on those capital costs and estimating the yields for such new equipment and steps is a more daunting challenge, said Re.
"That could be one of the things that determine which way we go," he said.
Currie Munce, vice president of research for Hitachi GST, says patterned media has a slight advantage as a next step.
"We are already working with many vendors on their prototyping tools and evaluating their plans for production-level tools for patterned media," said Munce in an email exchange. "We feel there are still a few inventions or breakthroughs required to make [HAMR] viable," he added.
In the end, drive makers are expected to rally behind just one of the two approaches as the next step.
"For either HAMR or patterned media there's an infrastructure that needs to be build up in the supply base," said Re. "I think once the momentum goes in one direction, the industry probably will converge on it," he added..
In the short term, all sides agree drive makers will squeeze advantages from today's perpendicular recoding technology to make it last as long as possible.
"We think we can do [perpendicular recording] for another few product generations," said Re. ""Probably 2012 is when we will need one of these transitions to patterned media or HAMR," he said.
Advances in heads, media, materials and communications channels are giving drive makers confidence they can push perpendicular recording to densities beyond a terabit/square inch. However, no disks have been demonstrated at that level yet.