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Scientists Say Blue Laser Process May Quadruple Optical Disk Storage

May 25, 1990

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Researchers at IBM say they have found a new way to produce blue laser light that could squeeze four times as much information on computer optical disks.

Moving the process from the lab to an end product is years away, Michael Ross, a spokesman for International Business Machines Corp., said Thursday.

Nevertheless, analysts and manufacturers said IBM could reap big profits if the process helps the optical storage industry, still in its infancy, take its place beside magnetic disks and tape.

Current optical disks use infrared diode lasers to make marks as small in diameter as 0.8 microns. A micron is a millionth of a meter.

Scientists from IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose used a quarter- inch-long potassium niobate crystal to convert infrared light to blue laser light, which has half the wavelength.

The blue laser can focus on a spot 0.4 microns in diameter, half the diameter of a conventional laser. That potentially could permit an optical disk to hold four times more information - the equivalent of perhaps 800 Bibles on a 5 1/4 -inch disk.

William J. Kozlovsky, an IBM research staff member, and Wilfried Lenth, manager of advanced lasers, told the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics in Anaheim Thursday that the process was at least five times more efficient than others at converting electricity into blue light.

″It’s almost the Holy Grail of the optical data storage industry,″ said Bob Abraham of Freeman Associates Inc., Santa Barbara-based consultants to data storage companies. ″It’s been long recognized that the wave length of the laser beam has been the big limiting factor.″

He said IBM had been researching optical disk technology for years, although the company today produces only magnetic disks.

″It may be a few years yet before we see products,″ Abraham said. ″But whether they choose to manufacture or license it they’re likely to be making a great deal of money.″

Optical disks, which look much like CDs or the small storage disks used in many PCs, can store enough data to replace whole tape libraries of computer information. Optical storage is a more secure way to store data than magnetic disks because it is much harder to erase accidentally.

One U.S. company that already makes optical disks, and would be interested in licensing the rights if IBM’s process becomes practical, is Maxoptics, a division of San Jose-base Maxtor Corp.

″At this point it’s a little early to tell how useful it’s going to be but it certainly appears the potential is there to quadruple the information stored,″ said Joe Davis, Maxtor’s vice president of advanced product planning.

″We eagerly await more information so we can begin studying it,″ Davis said.

The storage capacity of both optical and magnetic disks has reached stunning levels.

Maxtor recently began shipping a 5 1/4 -inch optical disk that can store the equivalent of 200 Bibles, Davis said. It also markets what he said was the highest-capacity storage disk in the world, a magnetic disk that can handle the equivalent of 400 Bibles.

Davis said that even if the improved optical disk pans out, it’s far too early to write off magnetic disks, particularly when information needs to be erased or written over. The storage capacity of magnetic disks, also known as Winchester disks, is now about 100 times greater than 10 years ago, he noted.

″Let’s suppose it does work out as they say,″ Davis said. ″This breakthrough took several years. Contrast that with Winchester technology, where every two years you seem to double the capacity.″

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