Seagate short on OAW specs

Posted on April 01, 1998

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Seagate short on OAW specs

Zachary Shess

When Seagate purchased Quinta Corp. last year, it provided few details about its new optically assisted Winchester (OAW) drive technology. During a recent press conference at Quinta`s San Jose headquarters, company officials unveiled key elements of the new drive technology; however, they remained tightlipped about performance stats and a product delivery date. Seagate chairman Al Shugart and Quinta president and CEO Steve Kitrosser would only say there might be a detailed announcement by year`s end.

Company officials claim OAW technology, made possible primarily through component miniaturization, will enable Quinta to eventually ship products with areal densities in excess of the superparamagnetic limit. Believed to be between 20 Gb/in2 and 40 Gb/in2, the superparamagnetic limit is the theoretical areal density limit of traditional magnetic recording technology. Current hard-disk media loses its ability to operate without instability between these points. Joseph Davis, Quinta vice president of technology, says the four key technology developments in OAW are an advanced light-delivery system, unique head design, a micro-machined fine servo system, and a new generation of media.

Quinta`s OAW technology includes a head design that enables a sharper depth of focus because its lenses are less than 350 microns in diameter, or about eight times smaller than the most minute aspheric lens. Quinta officials claim the new head design also provides a large margin of error to compensate for possible fly-height variances.

The servo-system design contains tiny micro-machined mirrors, located at the end of the actuator arm, that reflect light through the objective lens from the fiber optics running along the actuator arm. The mirror rotates as a result of electrical current sent through it and subsequently causes small shifts in the projection of light on the media surface.

OAW media is similar to that of standard magnetic disk drives. However, OAW media is constructed out of a plastic substrate, which is lighter and less expensive than the aluminum materials used in traditional drives.

"The possibility of this technology is exciting," says Jim Porter, president of Disk/Trend Inc., a storage market research firm in Mountain View, CA. "Now they will have to deliver, and I think they will." Porter expects OAW technology to be used in very-high-capacity disk drives.

Kitrosser says Quinta plans to implement OAW in both fixed and removable drives. However, analysts and potential competitors expect Quinta to initially move into the fixed area.

TeraStor, the developer of near-field recording, is also targeting its drives to both markets and, like Quinta, estimates a late-1998 timetable for product delivery. While seemingly a competitor, Gordon Knight, TeraStor`s chief technology officer, does not anticipate a battle for market share: "If they`re doing fixed and we`re doing removable, I think there`s room for both of us to be successful. I don`t see us competing, at least not in the first-generation product."

"[Quinta`s miniaturization of disk drive components] is very interesting, very good engineering," Knight adds, "because that allows them to get more heads and disks in the enclosure and, if you`re doing a fixed-drive product, that`s essential."

However, Knight threw off the gloves by questioning Quinta`s ability to break the superparamagnetic limit, saying that TeraStor will exceed the barrier within two years, as opposed to Quinta`s five-year estimate. "They didn`t say how they plan to do this, and according to my calculations, they can`t. All optical technologies, including ours, are limited by spot size," Knight says.

Porter would not say who has the most realistic or accurate claim, but he acknowledges that both Quinta and TeraStor officers have a proven track record of moving technological innovation into the production line. Whether you back near-field recording or OAW, a more enlightened debate will ensue once the companies deliver products to market, Porter adds. "The management of both companies have done this before. There are practical product developers on both sides."

In related news, Quinta introduced its new Optical Technology Development Center. Housed at its headquarters, the 55,000 square-foot facility will be a research and development hub for OAW technology. The center includes clean rooms, laboratories, and office space for more than 170 employees.


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