Overview of Probe-based Storage Technologies
- Lei Wang^{1}Email author,
- Ci Hui Yang^{1},
- Jing Wen^{1},
- Si Di Gong^{1} and
- Yuan Xiu Peng^{1}
Received: 23 June 2016
Accepted: 14 July 2016
Published: 25 July 2016
Abstract
The current world is in the age of big data where the total amount of global digital data is growing up at an incredible rate. This indeed necessitates a drastic enhancement on the capacity of conventional data storage devices that are, however, suffering from their respective physical drawbacks. Under this circumstance, it is essential to aggressively explore and develop alternative promising mass storage devices, leading to the presence of probe-based storage devices. In this paper, the physical principles and the current status of several different probe storage devices, including thermo-mechanical probe memory, magnetic probe memory, ferroelectric probe memory, and phase-change probe memory, are reviewed in details, as well as their respective merits and weakness. This paper provides an overview of the emerging probe memories potentially for next generation storage device so as to motivate the exploration of more innovative technologies to push forward the development of the probe storage devices.
Keywords
Review
Introduction
Today, the prosperity of social networks such as Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook, in conjunction with the digitalization of the daily service of worldwide citizens, has triggered a radical increase on the total amount of global digital data. According to IDC’s report, the amount of digital data has already surpassed 4.4 ZettaBytes (ZB) in 2013, and is predicted to reach 44 ZettaBytes in 2020 [1]. Under this situation, the capacities of various data storage devices where the digital data can be recorded and replayed are conversely limited in TeraBytes (TB) regime, lagging far behind the phenomenal growth of the digital data. The conventional mass storage devices can be categorized into hard disk, optical disc, and flash memory. Today, the hard disk drive (HDD) is undoubtedly the most famous mainstream storage device mainly due to its high capacity, fast data rate, and low cost. Nevertheless, in order to satisfy the current storage demand, the magnetic grain inside the HDD needs to be further shrunk so as to enhance the resulting density. However, the reduction on the volume of the magnetic grain would deteriorate the thermal stability of the magnetic written bits whose magnetization may be reversed without magnetic field due to the thermal fluctuation. This is well-known as superparamagnetic limit [2, 3]. The evolution of the optical disc has experienced three generations ranging from compact disc (CD) to Blu-ray disc. The major hurdle to prevent optical disc from booming its capacity results from the fact that the diameter of the laser spot focused on the optical disc is approximately proportional to the wavelength of the laser beam and inversely proportional to the numerical aperture (NA) of the objective lens [4, 5]. In this case, the storage capacity of the optical disc can seemingly be enhanced by either reducing the beam wavelength or increasing the NA. However, as there is no breakthrough progress recently made in the technologies of solid state laser and objective lens, the shortest wavelength and the largest NA to date are still limited to 405 and 0.85 nm for optical recording [6], which is usually referred to optical diffraction. Flash memory, represented by universal serial bus (USB) drive and iPhone series products, has recently received numerous attentions because of its high capacity, short data access time, non-volatility, portability, and low expense, which is expected to replace HDD in the near future. The capacity improvement of the flash memory strongly depends on the downscale of the flash cell size. In this case, further scaling down the cell size would result in a decrease on the thickness of the tunnel oxide layer usually sandwiched between the floating gate and wafer. A tunnel oxide layer with a very thin thickness is unable to prevent electrons from escaping from the floating gate, thus causing the loss of data, which is known as scaling limit [7, 8]. Consequently, as HDD, optical disc, and flash memory are suffering from superparamagnetic limit, diffraction limit, and scaling limit, it is timely to explore more innovative mass storage devices with higher storage capacity, faster data rate, lower energy consumption, and longer data retention time than conventional counterparts, giving rise to the advent of probe-based storage devices.
Thermo-Mechanical Probe Memory
As thousands of cantilevers scan repeatedly back and forth across the medium surface, the tip and sample wear become more evident than other storage devices, thus exacerbating the lifetime of the thermo-mechanical probe device as well as the resulting density. In order to suppress the wear from media’s point of view, one possible approach is to introduce a photo-resistant layer between the silicon substrate and the PMMA polymer [12]. From the perspective of tip, tip wear can be aggressively mitigated by coating the tip with some hard materials. Recently, a moulded DLC tip designed based on atom by atom attrition mechanism was reported to give approximately four orders of magnitude improvement on wear compared to the carbon nanotube tip [24]. Such an improvement can be further enhanced by the use of SiC tip [25]. Another possibility to alleviate the tip wear is to actuate the tip with a periodic force at frequencies at or above the natural resonant frequency of the cantilever [26, 27]. In practice, it is preferable to operate AFM at intermittent-contact mode that can effectively reduce tip wear. However, the intermittent-contact mode that usually requires high cantilever stiffness is usually contradictory with the feeble cantilever used in thermo-mechanical storage to allow easy electrostatic actuation [28]. This can be solved by either utilizing amplitude modulation of the cantilever through electrostatic actuation [26] or slightly modulating the force on the tip-sample contact [28], allowing for an areal density of 1 Tb/in^{2} attained even after a sliding distance of 140 m.
Magnetic Probe Memory
In terms of readout process, a short tip-sample distance on the order of 10 nm or less is required in order to obtain a readout image with high resolution. However, for MFM tip operating within such a small distance, non-magnetic tip-sample interactions play a more important role and would introduce unwanted topographic interference. This drawback can be overcome by integrating a magneto-resistive sensor on the magnetic tip [51–55]. A cantilever integrated with a spin-valve sensor was recently reported, and leads to a resolution around 1 μm, which is somewhat inadequate for probe-based storage [56]. However, it is possible to incorporate the magnetic field sensor used for modern HDDs that can readily give a resolution below 20 nm with the magnetic probe memory. In addition to this, another novel approach making use of dual tips for both topography and magnetic field imaging has been recently proposed [57]. According to this method, a cantilever is cut in half using the focused ion beam technique, whereby two different tips, one magnetized tip and one non-magnetized tip, are implemented to tackle the topography imaging and magnetic imaging, respectively. This dual-tip technique can radically suppress the perturbations of the magnetic tip as compared to the standard MFM methods.
Ferroelectric Probe Memory
Although the ferroelectric probe memory exhibits a capability of providing densities of multi-Tbit/in^{2}, its destructive readout mechanism requires data to be refreshed after readout and this would cumulate read/write cycles and eventually causes severe fatigue. In order to overcome the adverse effects of the destructive readout, several non-destructive readout methods have been recently proposed including piezoelectric force microscopy (PFM) readout [73–75] and scanning nonlinear dielectric microscopy (SNDM) readout [64, 76–78]. For PFM readout, a conductive probe where a small AC tip-sample voltage is applied is brought in contact with the sample, and the response of the probe related to the polarization state of ferroelectric domains is detected by PFM as a readout signal at a frequency below the cantilever resonance. It should be pointed out that the resulting electric field would possibly change the permittivity of the ferroelectric domain, thus resulting in an advent of second harmonics [73]. An alternative method to operate probe in non-contact mode is SNDM readout that possesses from a fact that the reversal of the ferroelectric polarization can slightly change the storage medium’s capacitance due to the non-linearity in the permittivity tensor [79]. The variation on the capacitance would slightly change the resonance conditions that can be detected by monitoring the cantilever vibration if the cantilever is excited with a fixed AC voltage by means of a lock-in technique. Another method reported the direct piezoelectric effect to build up charge on the tip as a result of the tip-sample load force [78]. The resulting current is proportional to the load force, leading to a trade-off with endurance, as tip wear increases with the load force.
Phase-Change Probe Memory
Conclusions
Performance comparison of various probe memories [121]
Phase-change | Magnetic | Thermomech | Ferroelectric | |
---|---|---|---|---|
Density | 3.3 Tb/in^{2} | 60 Gb/in^{2} | 4.0 Tb/in^{2} | 4.0 Tb/in^{2} |
Est. Max. density | ≈10 Tb/in^{2} | ≈100 Tb/in^{2} | ≈10 Tb/in^{2} | >10 Tb/in^{2} |
Read speed per probe | 50 Mb s^{ −1} | <10 b/s | 40 kb s^{ −1} | 2 Mb s^{ −1} |
Write speed per probe | 50 Mb s^{ −1} | <10 b/s | 1 Mb s^{ −1} | 50 kb s^{ −1} |
Travel per probe | 2.5 m | 0.5 m | 750 m | 5000 m |
Declarations
Acknowledgements
The authors acknowledge the financial support of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant No. 61201439).
Authors’ contributions
LW performed the literature reviews of the thermo-mechanical probe memeory and the phase-change probe memory and drafted the manuscript; CHY performed the literature review of magnetic probe memory and edited the tables and figures; JW, SDG, and YXP performed the literature review of ferroelectric probe memory. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Competing interests
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Authors’ Affiliations
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