Een harde schijf, Foto University of Cambridge

Graphene, a material comprised of carbon atoms, can help make computers’ hard drives much more powerful, claims the University of Cambridge. The amount of data stored could be increased tenfold, the university wrote in a press release.

The research was conducted in collaboration with teams from the UK, India, Switzerland, Singapore and the US and is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Ultra-high density hard disk drives,” or HDDs, have been around for a long time, but the breakthrough came in 1955 when IBM announced a product that could store 5 million characters of 7 bits each, unheard of at the time. The big breakthrough of the hard disk then came in the 1980s with the rise of the PC.

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Cell phone

However, once mobile telephony came along, things started to slow down again. HDDs are less suitable for mobile devices because of the moving parts involved. In mobile phones, solid state drives (SSD) are used for data storage, without moving parts, which means there are hardly any mechanical errors. They are also much faster.

Nevertheless, HDDs remain important for PCs. But, among others, also for servers, which are now on the rise again thanks to corona. The main advantage of HDDs is their lower cost.

Plates and heads

An HDD consists of two major components: A plate and magnetic read/write heads. The heads are attached to a moving arm. The information is written to the disk using the heads and can also be read the disk using the heads.

A thin carbon layer of what are known as COCs (Cyclic olefin copolymer) is inserted into the space between the heads and the plate to protect the plates from mechanical damage and corrosion. Over the years, this carbon polymer layer has become increasingly thinner, from 12.5 nanometers to 3 nanometers.

Thin layer

This is also the reason why it was possible to make hard drives smaller and smaller and store more data. By now using graphene instead of COCs, the layer can become a lot thinner and therefore store even more data. The hard drive will also become more robust, according to the University of Cambridge.

All this, in the view of the researchers, would not only make PCs tougher. It can also make an important contribution to combating global warming. Think about all the data centers in the world that consume enormous amounts of energy.

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About the author

Author profile picture Maurits Kuypers graduated as a macroeconomist from the University of Amsterdam, specialising in international work. He has been active as a journalist since 1997, first for 10 years on the editorial staff of Het Financieele Dagblad in Amsterdam, then as a freelance correspondent in Berlin and Central Europe. When it comes to technological innovations, he always has an eye for the financial feasibility of a project.