World’s Smallest Hard Drive Created, Could Revolutionize Computers Today With Massive Storage Capacity

The world’s smallest hard drive could easily change the way computers are sold. In many cases, we look at the capacity of the device where we store our music, applications, and documents. The higher the number, the most attracted we usually are.

That number could be on the verge of rising by multiples higher than two or four in the next few years, thanks to a new way of storing data. Dutch scientists from the Technical University of Delft have been developing this method for decades and now have a working prototype capable of writing data on the atomic level.

For the sake of perspective on the world’s smallest hard drive, look at the origins of computers. They used to be massive machines clunking away and taking up entire rooms, using vacuum tubes to relay data. Eventually those machines became smaller, and the personal computer was invented, writing portable data to floppy disks, which back then were actually floppy and could be easily destroyed. We were lucky to get even simple video games like Pac-Man on a floppy disk.

As technology progressed, the laptop was made possible with hard drives which were smaller than normal. Now laptop hard drives can be used to upgrade the storage capacity in video game consoles up to 4TB, a feat now possible with the PlayStation 4.

Four terabytes is multiple times as much information as what we could get on a budget PC back in 2006. We even have SD cards capable of storing 64GB of data for video cameras.

The world’s smallest hard drive is about to make that look like a life boat next to a naval battleship, while shrinking the battleship to the physical size of the lifeboat.

Writing data on the atomic level is what could end up getting the contents of the Library of Congress on a device the size of a postage stamp, which is about equal to a micro-SD card. Data on computers today is created using a binary system, ones and zeroes. Those Dutch scientists found a way to transfer chlorine atoms around on a copper surface using a scanning tunneling microscope. When the chlorine atom is in place, it’s a “one,” and when it’s missing, leaving a hole, that’s a “zero.”

It could still be a decade before this system can be made mainstream, but considering its physical size, we could end up with smartphones the size they are now capable of the hard drive and computing capacity of a high-end gaming PC. For now, the world’s smallest hard drive only works in a vacuum cooled to liquid nitrogen levels.

Associate Professor at TU Delft and lead researcher Sander Otte explained the world’s smallest hard drive as basically an “atomic printing press.”

“The combination of chlorine atoms and supporting copper crystal surface that we found now, combined with the fact that we manipulate ‘holes’ – just as in a sliding puzzle – makes for a much more reliable, reproducible, and scalable manipulation technique [which] can easily be automated. It is as if we have invented the atomic scale printing press.”

Don’t expect the world’s smallest hard drive to deliver much in the way of speed yet, Otte adds.

“While the memory outperforms existing media by far in terms of capacity, it still stays far behind in terms of read/write speed. However, I foresee no physical boundaries that will prevent us from speeding up these processes to similar speeds that are currently seen in [hard disk drives]. It will be a technological challenge for sure, but in terms of physics it should work.”

This could be an exciting time for those whose computers just don’t have the capacity they need for what they do. The world’s smallest hard drive could easily open the proverbial floodgates for supercomputers the size of your cell phone.

[Image via mike mols/]