Graphene leveraged to create ultra-high density hard drives

A new study has confirmed that graphene can be used to create ultra-high density hard disk drives that offer up to ten times the amount of storage compared to current technologies. The study was published by researchers at the Cambridge Graphene Center in collaboration with teams at the University of Exeter, India, Switzerland, Singapore, and the US. While many computers are turning to solid-state storage devices today, hard drives are still widely used to store files in computers in large part because they are cheap and can store massive volumes of data.

Two major components inside of a hard drive include platters and a head. Data is written to the platters using a magnetic head which moves rapidly above the discs as they spin. Scientists have continually reduced the amount of space between the head and the platter enabling higher storage densities. Hard drives use carbon-based overcoats, which are layers used to protect platters from mechanical damage and corrosion. That layer occupies a significant part of the space between the two structures.

Researchers note that since 1990 the density of hard drives has quadrupled in the carbon-based overcoat thickness has been reduced from 12.5nm to around 3nm. That reduction corresponds to one terabyte per square inch. The new graphene system has allowed researchers to multiply that benefit by a factor of ten.

The researchers replaced commercial carbon-based overcoats with 1 to 4 layers of graphene and then tested the friction, wear, corrosion, thermal stability, and lubricant compatibility of the material. Researchers say that aside from its incredible thinness, graphene fulfills all the ideal properties of a hard drive overcoat in terms of corrosion protection, low friction, wear resistance, hardness, lubricant compatibility, and surface smoothness. The graphene coating provides a two-fold reduction in friction and better corrosion and wear resistance than current state-of-the-art solutions.

Researchers say that a single graphene layer reduces corrosion by 2.5 times. Graphene can also be combined with Heat-Assisted Magnetic Recording. The combined technologies can outperform current hard drives providing an unprecedented data density that's higher than ten terabytes per square inch.