AIM (Apple, IBM, Motorola) Alliance member, IBM has begun mass-producing a magnetic-coating technology that lead to hard disks with 400 per cent more capacity than current top-end models.

IBM claims that, by 2003, the new technology will be able store 100GB of data per square inch of disk. A typical 10GB drive with IBM's technology becomes a 40GB drive. Handheld devices could store as much as 6GB of video.

Computerworld says IBM describes the technology as "Antiferromagnetically-coupled (AFC) media."

Essentially, this sandwiches a three-atom-thick layer of a precious metal similar to platinum between two magnetic layers on a disk. Because of its atomic size, IBM scientists call the metal "pixie dust".

Bob Scranton, director of recording-head technology at IBM's Almaden Research Center said: "Scientists have known for some time that, as you decrease the volume of magnetic grains you write on, the volume of grain becomes so small it can't hold magnetization over the product's life-span," Scranton said.

This limitation has made other storage technologies such as optical disks appear more promising than magnetic ones. IBM will introduce the new media in some notebook hard-disk drives.

IBM suggests that increased data-density could mean lighter, lower energy hard drives.