One of the cool things about hard drive technology is how it has actually kept pace with computer needs. The basic mechanism for hard drive storage, however, does have some fundamental limitations, which manufacturers will have to deal with fairly soon. Bits are currently stored in the orientation of tiny magnets, called ferromagnetic domains, on a hard drive platter. The smaller the domain, the easier it is for that orientation to be scrambled by temperature or stray electromagnetic fields. At a certain size, thermal photons (e.g., heat energy from the surrounding case or the underlying disk) have enough energy to flip a domain’s orientation. Manufacturers will have to keep their domain sizes significantly bigger than that threshold size to ensure data integrity, which puts a ceiling on storage density, one we’re rapidly approaching.
An alternative is to use ferroelectric domains. Unlike ferromagnetic domains, ferroelectric domains have a natural electric field with an orientation that can be used to represent data. Until recently, these haven’t looked that attractive because they have pretty much the same limitations that ferromagnetic domains have, but they lack the cool read-out tricks. Ferroelectric materials, however, do have one big advantage over ferromagnetic materials: they can be used to make really good capacitors. This is exactly what the latest research, published in Nature Nanotechnology, is about. (link)