IBM and Sony have teamed up to produce a magnetic tape cartridge that could fit 330 terabytes in the palm of your hand.
The tape can store 201 gigabits (25 gigabytes) in a single square inch (pictured). Arstechnica notes that the theoretical 330 terabyte tape cartridge would be more than 20 times the biggest capacity current available, and five times the capacity of the biggest hard drive on the market.
It was very much a combined effort with Sony concentrating on the pure logistics of producing a higher-capacity tape and IBM working on how to read the data.
The key was switching the method of applying the magnetic material to the tape. Traditionally what’s involved is coating it in a liquid. The new method involves sputter deposition, which is already used for creating some circuit components.
In simplified terms, that means creating a gas and accelerating the ions onto a source material. This causes particles from the source material to be ejected in a straight line, depositing them into a film on the surface of the tape.
The upshot is that the magnetic grains on the tape are 10 or more times thinner than in existing tapes, thus increasing capacity.
The new tape also includes an additional layer of lubrication to make sure it runs smoothly. That’s vital given that the narrower magnetic grains leave less room for error with the tape moving from side to side.
Meanwhile IBM adapted the tape drives to use a narrower read head and better control the flow of the tape to ensure precise positioning. It also rethought the algorithm it uses for transforming the positioning of the magnetic grains into data.