magnetic storage medium

Magnetic storage

Magnetic storage and magnetic recording are terms from engineering referring to the storage of data on a magnetized medium. Magnetic storage uses different patterns of magnetization in a magnetizable material to store data and is a form of non-volatile memory. The information is accessed using one or more read/write heads. As of 2007, magnetic storage media, primarily hard disks, are widely used to store computer data as well as audio and video signals. In the field of computing, the term magnetic storage is preferred and in the field of audio and video production, the term magnetic recording is more commonly used. The distinction is less technical and more a matter of preference.


Magnetic storage was first suggested by Oberlin Smith in 1888. The first working magnetic recorder was invented by Valdemar Poulsen in 1898. Poulsen's device recorded a signal on a wire wrapped around a drum. In 1928, Fritz Pfleumer developed the first magnetic tape recorder. Early magnetic storage devices were designed to record analog audio signals. Modern magnetic storage devices are designed for recording digital data.

In early computers, magnetic storage was also used for primary storage in a form of magnetic drum, or core memory, core rope memory, thin film memory, twistor memory or bubble memory. Unlike modern computers, magnetic tape was also often used for secondary storage.

Technical details

Access method

Magnetic storage media can be classified as either sequential access memory or random access memory although in some cases the distinction is not perfectly clear. In the case of magnetic wire, the read/write head only covers a very small part of the recording surface at any given time. Accessing different parts of the wire involves winding the wire forward or backward until the point of interest is found. The time to access this point depends on how far away it is from the starting point. The case of ferrite-core memory is the opposite. Every core location is immediately accessible at any given time.

Hard disks and modern linear serpentine tape drives do not precisely fit into either category. Both have many parallel tracks across the width of the media and the read/write heads take time to switch between tracks and to scan within tracks. Different spots on the storage media take different amounts of time to access. For a hard disk this time is typically less than 10 ms, but tapes might take as much as 100 s.

Current usage

As of 2007, common uses of magnetic storage media are for computer data mass storage on hard disks and the recording of analog audio and video works on analog tape. Since much of audio and video production is moving to digital systems, the usage of hard disks is expected to increase at the expense of analog tape. Digital tape and tape libraries are popular for the high capacity data storage of archives and backups. Floppy disks see some marginal usage, particularly in dealing with older computer systems and software. Magnetic storage is also widely used in some specific applications, such as bank checks (MICR) and payment cards (mag stripes).


A new type of magnetic storage, called MRAM, is being produced that stores data in magnetic bits based on the GMR effect. Its advantage is non-volatility, low power usage, and good shock robustness. However, with storage density and capacity orders of magnitude smaller than e.g. an HDD, MRAM is a niche application for situations where small amounts of storage with a need for very frequent updates are required, which flash memory could not support.

See also

External links

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