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The 747 Inside Your Computer


Seagate Technology makes computer hard drives. They sell over $11 billion worth of them each year. Inside each drive is a collection of platters that store information and an array of heads which read and write that information to the platters. Twenty percent of those heads are made in NRR’s core service area (in the suburb of Bloomington, MN).

That’s just to give some local context to something I thought was pretty cool. Tom’s Hardware has a story about a tour of a Seagate factory in Ireland. We never see the drives that are essential to our compter-based lifestyles. We take them for granted. But they’re amazing. Here’s some info on those heads:

The dimensions of the head are impressive. With a width of less than a hundred nanometers and a thickness of about ten, it flies above the platter at a speed of up to 15,000 RPM, at a height that’s the equivalent of 40 atoms. If you start multiplying these infinitesimally small numbers, you begin to get an idea of their significance.

Consider this little comparison: if the read/write head were a Boeing 747, and the hard-disk platter were the surface of the Earth:

  • The head would fly at Mach 800
  • At less than one centimeter from the ground
  • And count every blade of grass
  • Making fewer than 10 unrecoverable counting errors in an area equivalent to all of Ireland.

And the drives get more capacity and more speed with every generation. While the price goes down. It’s an example of how the same dollar buys more because of better technology. Our lives are improving all the time, nanometer by nanometer. I like to take the ocassional moment to notice even the small stuff.