Seagate plans to Double the HDD Speed with Multi-Actuator Technology

Seagate plans to Double the HDD Speed with Multi-Actuator Technology

With new recording technologies, your next Hard Disk Drive might be twice as faster than any drive on the market. Seagate plans to double the performance of its future HDDs with its multi-actuator technology.

HDD density has continued to rise, but the mild performance improvements with each new generation are mostly borne of density increases instead of new whiz-bang tech. That’s why SSDs have taken over the performance role and HDDs have retreated into the high-capacity space. We’re on the cusp of even more explosive capacity increases as WD and Seagate both roll out their new recording technologies. Both companies predict their future HDDs will increase beyond 40TB, which means stagnant performance will become one of the biggest challenges.

Increased capacities combined with similar gen-on-gen performance results in a lower IOPS per TB rating, which isn’t ideal for data centers. For instance, most 3.5″ enterprise HDDs reach ~250MB/s of sequential throughput, so a 40TB HDD would take nearly two days to fill under ideal conditions. That also has implications for application performance, RAID rebuilds, and other common tasks.

Seagate’s animation appears to show an additional actuator magnet (the far left of the image) that manipulates the VCM (Voice Coil Magnet) assembly that moves the arm to position the heads. The additional actuator magnet will likely add at least some cost to the equation. However, both actuator arm assemblies operate on the same pivot point, which is more cost-effective than using an entirely separate assembly. That’s one of the keys to avoiding the cost challenges the company encountered with its early multi-actuator models. The single pivot also helps reduce redundant components.

The heads read data from servo tracks embedded onto the platter, which in turn allows the actuator magnets to adjust head positioning dynamically. In current models, Seagate also has a PZT micro-actuator near each head that provides additional fine-grained positioning. Managing head positioning, data reading and writing, error correction, and other tasks require a dedicated processor (controller) onboard the drive. In the past, the additional processing overhead from managing a separate set of heads required an additional controller, which adds cost, power consumption, and complexity. Today, it’s likely that a single modern drive controller can handle the task, albeit with a slightly more model that might have higher power consumption.

The additional actuator magnet/VCM assemblies will likely increase drive weight and power consumption to some extent. Seagate apparently feels it is a manageable overhead and that overall lower dollar-per-TB metrics will offset any increases in manufacturing costs.

Work Like A Normal Drive?
Seagate has not confirmed that the new multi-actuator drives will adhere to the standard dimensions of the 3.5″ form factor, but that seems likely, because it would ensure broad compatibility with existing infrastructure.

Seagate’s blog post describes the process as:
The host computer can treat a single Dual Actuator drive as if it were two separate drives. This means the host computer can ask a single high-capacity drive to retrieve two different data requests simultaneously; delivering data up to twice as fast compared with a single-actuator drive.

The company also responded “The device shows up as one worldwide name to the user with two access streams available for communication. The drive is one volume but split into two spaces that the user can communicate to. And in the future, if a quad-actuator were implemented (for example), that would be one worldwide name to the user, with four access streams available for communication.”

Seagate says the drives could use SAS, SATA, or NVMe interfaces, but the company will respond to the needs of its customers to develop the final solutions.

For instance, the venerable SAS interface features dual- connectivity that provides two separate pathways into a single drive. The additional pathway can be used for multi-pathing or fail-over. The pathways can also be combined into a dual connection to offer up to twice the performance from a single drive, as we see with some of Seagate’s cutting-edge enterprise SSDs. The NVMe protocol also supports similar features. Seagate will share further technical details as specific models come to market.


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