Seagate Takes a Big Byte

On Monday, FreescaleSemiconductor (NYSE: FSL  ) made a big splash with news that it had beaten the likes of SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK  ) , Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) , and Micron (NYSE: MU  ) in the race to introduce magnetoresistive random access memory (MRAM) chips.

As Seth Jayson accurately pointed out, the technology has a number of positive attributes, but it's severely limited in storage capacity. As such, it might find its way into some niche applications, but it hardly poses an immediate threat to the aforementioned companies, which are diligently working on competing technologies.

Last week, however, brought a smaller story that ultimately could have a much greater impact on the data storage industry. In a little-noted press release, Seagate Technology (NYSE: STX  ) announced that it had just patented a new technology that could increase disk capacity by a factor of 10.

Company officials didn't say when the technology will be introduced in products, so I encourage would-be investors not to get too excited about the news giving Seagate stock a short-term boost. But I do believe it bodes well for the company's long-term prospects.

Essentially, the new patent describes how a new nanotube-based lubricant allows the read/write head of a disk to get closer to the surface. In turn, this neat little trick means that a greater number of data-recording areas can be packed onto the disk surface.

According to Seagate officials, the new technology could increase the disk capacity of a 1.8-inch drive to 600 gigabytes, and a 2.5-inch drive to 1.46 terabytes.

It sounds impressive -- and it is -- but if you're like me, you might just be asking yourself what all those gigabytes and terabytes really mean. Well, with 500GB, you can store about 80 hours of high-definition content, and one terabyte is the amount of storage Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) provides each of its employees.

If these numbers still don't mean squat to you, think of it this way: You could either store 240,000 songs or all 350 episodes of The Simpsons in one terabyte.

In more practical terms, Seagate is hoping this technology will move it one step closer to its vision of enabling people to live a "terabyte lifestyle." This includes providing virtually unlimited storage for songs and high-definition video content in both the home and the car, as well as vastly greater storage for notebook computers, mobile telephones, and next-generation video games.

If Seagate can get to these large levels of data storage first, this "big byte" technology could not only enable consumers to do some pretty cool things, but also cause its competitors a considerable amount of real pain.

Chat with investors interested in Intel, aMotley Fool Inside Valuepick, when you take a free trial to the newsletter and check out its discussion board.

Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is planning to drive his family to Colorado next month for vacation; he reckons he would need a device with at least 200GB of storage to adequately sate his two young children's growing "gigabyte lifestyle." He owns stock in Freescale, Google, and Intel. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.

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