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Hard-Disk Limitations

A Stanford University project concluded that hard-disk drives could become unstable at very high speeds.

Many technologies perform well in laboratory tests and wow attendees viewing conference demos. But in a recent test by some scientists, the foundation for our dominant storage systems was under attack.

A project at Stanford University labs led by some of the university's researchers, a scientist from the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics in Moscow, and engineers from hard-disk drive leader Seagate Technologies LLC concluded that hard-disk drives could become unstable at very high speeds.

The researchers used a particle accelerator to blast electrons at almost the speed of light at magnetic material used in hard-disk drives. Scrambled patterns left behind on the material were evidence of eventual hard disk drives that could someday, many years from now, produce garbled information.

One analyst says any concerns about such tests are akin to worry about the sun exploding someday. That could be billions of years away, says Stephanie Balaouras, an analyst at IT research firm Yankee Group, and business-technology executives have more important items to worry about. "Think about performance a lot more holistically," she says. "So many things, like apps, database, and the network, come before you ever need to maximize the storage."

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