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Seagate finds sets of two heads are cheaper than one in its new and very fast MACH.2 dual-actuator hard disks

Looks forward to nicely lowered costs as production ramps up, but they're still hyperscaler-only for now

For about three years, disk-making giant Seagate has been talking up tech called “MACH.2” – a conventional disk drive that offers considerable speed improvements. And now the disk giant has found that the tech also cuts its costs, raising the prospect that big, fast, hard disk drives might emerge at keen prices.

MACH.2 gets its speed by using two actuators – the twitchy little devices that move the arms carrying read/write heads to the parts of a disk’s platter that matter. While disks contain multiple platters and heads, they move all their arms at once and can only do one thing at a time with one arm. MACH.2 drives have two actuators, each driving arms and heads that address half of the platters in a disk and can do two things at once. They’re therefore pleasingly rapid.

MACH.2 also offer pleasingly large capacities up to 20TB. That combination of speed and capacity has seen Microsoft buy up plenty of the Seagate’s early production run and put them to work in the Project Olympus servers it deploys inside the Azure cloud

But MACH.2 is not yet a product the rest of us can go out and buy.

A recently surfaced transcript of a Seagate investor day, sighted by The Register, quotes senior veep Jeff Fochtman as saying MACH.2 is “really still in a technology-staging mode”. Despite that status the drives have a dozen customers and Seagate is ramping up production.

Fochtman said that once MACH.2 hits 30TB it will offer an irresistible proposition “in many large datacenter environments.”

He also dropped this nugget:

A notable benefit to dual actuator technology standardization is that it drastically cuts down test time, and therefore, hard drive production time is greatly reduced. This is a benefit we're looking forward to recognizing on the cost side of the business.

When a vendor has a clear technology advantage, they charge a premium because they can and because they have a duty to shareholders. Hence Fochtman saying Seagate intends to essentially bank the cost benefits MACH.2 delivers.

But once competition kicks in, prices usually fall. And when that happens, it will prove that two heads – or actuators – are better than one. ®

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