10 Mar 2010

The technophile

In my blurb I described myself as a technophile. This is true so much so that I avidly read technology news that isn’t even in my field (IT).

Today I came across 2 pretty fascinating bits, one IT related and one that has potential.

Minuscule tubes coated with a chemical fuel can act as a power source with 100 times more electrical power by weight than conventional batteries.

As these nano-scale "fuses" burn, they drive an electrical current along their length at staggering speeds.

Researchers say that unlike normal batteries, the nanotubes never lose their stored energy if left to sit.

The team, led by Michael Strano of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, coated their nanotubes - cylinders just billionths of a metre across - with a chemical fuel known as cyclotrimethylene trinitramine.

They also found that, through a mechanism that is still poorly understood, the process creates a useful voltage - a phenomenon they have dubbed "thermopower waves".

Their nanotube bundles carry, gram for gram, up to 100 times as much energy as a standard lithium-ion battery.

Since just a tiny amount of energy is needed to start the reaction before it becomes self-sustaining, Dr Strano says it could be initiated in a small device with the energy in the push of a finger.

Hard drives are about to undergo one of the biggest format shifts in 30 years.

By early 2011 all hard drives will use an "advanced format" that changes how they go about saving the data people store on them.

The move to the advanced format will make it easier for hard drive makers to produce bigger drives that use less power and are more reliable.

However, it might mean problems for Windows XP users who swap an old drive for one using the changed format.

Since the days of the venerable DOS operating system, the space on a hard drive has been formatted into blocks 512 bytes in size.

The 512 byte sector became standardised thanks to IBM which used it on floppy disks.

While 512 bytes was useful when hard drives were only a few megabytes in size, it makes less sense when drives can hold a terabyte (1000 gigabytes), or more of data.

This fine resolution on hard drives is causing a problem, he said, because of the wasted space associated with each tiny block.

Each 512 byte sector has a marker showing where it begins and an area dedicated to storing error correction codes. In addition a tiny gap has to be left between each sector. In large drives this wasted space where data cannot be stored can take up a significant proportion of the drive.

Moving to an advanced format of 4K sectors means about eight times less wasted space but will allow drives to devote twice as much space per block to error correction.

I have been formatting drives in the 4K size for well over 4 years.