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ARS: HP's probe storage program


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"The Atomic Resolution Storage (ARS) program at Hewlett-Packard aims to provide a thumbnail-size device with storage densities greater than one terabit per square inch. The technology builds on advances in atomic probe microscopy, in which a probe tip as small as a single atom scans the surface of a material to produce images accurate within a few nanometers."
—Scientific American


The current program is at the stage where commercialization is possible by 2006. The storage segment first addressed is portable storage of between 2 and 10 gigabytes. (SD card form factor).

The marketplace

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Flash Cost Trends
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Portable storage is a large market now and is expected to expand to more than $20 billion by 2006. The most successful multifunction portable appliance is the mobile phone. Phone vendors have issued storage requirements for their next generation of products due out in 2005 in excess of 1 GB. It will be difficult for Flash Storage to continue deliver the needed densities past a limit of 45 nanometers. Flash must change significantly and we believe the cost will be prohibitive for portable devices. If one looks to spinning media, the problem for portable storage is two-fold: (1) SD card height of 2.1mm is just too thin and (2) power consumption. Thus by 2006 there is an opening in the market for a new technology that can provide dense storage at reasonable prices. This is the goal of the ARS program.


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Mover Close Loop Servo Control
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Our probe storage module is a sandwich formed of three wafers then cut into chips measuring 6mm x 10mm x .8mm. It utilizes an arrangement of 8 planar (x-y) micro-movers to position >8000 read/write probes. The patented HP micro-mover can position accurately to 3 nanometers. (The step size is actually .17 nanometers or approximately three hydrogen atoms) In the first implementation each data-bit is 35 nanometers center-to-center. Probe tip sharpening will allow future generations to improve data-bit size to 10 nanometers or better. The data bit is formed in a special polymer film which rides on the micro-mover.

Photo of 2 Giga Byte ARS Module
2 Giga Byte ARS Module
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Data is written to the polymer by heating the probe which causes the polymer to dimple. Reading is accomplished using a patented second order electrical effect when the probe is in a dimple. The dimple can be erased by applying sufficient heat to the tip. The density achieved is 7x greater than the best achieved by spinning technology (vertical magnetic recording which is yet to be released in product form). The data transfer rates for ARS are comparable to Flash memory.

Well understood MEMS technology is used to create the Micro-Mover suspension system as well as the suspended probe devices. One essential goal of this technology is to be low cost. The wafers can be manufactured in older fabs with .35 micron resolution.

Photo of Polymer media/cantilivers
Polymer media/cantilevers
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Working with our fabricating partner we have estimated an initial cost of approximately $10.00 per gigabyte. We believe that this technology can scale by 2X as well as achieve normal cost reductions. Thus costs in future generations will be orders of magnitude better than flash.

Hewlett-Packard is actively looking for partners with vision and expertise in storage to help commercialize this exciting technology. HP has supported research in probe storage for the past 10 years at HP Labs, Palo Alto, Tokyo, Boise and Corvallis. Over 60 patents have been granted and many applications are in progress.

We invite interested companies to contact us for more information about partnering with HP and the ARS program.

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