IBM's 12-atom memory storage
IBM's 12-atom memory storage
IBM found a way to cram one bit of storage into just 12 atoms (above).

The tech industry is reaching the physical limits of how much magnetically stored information it can cram into a bit of data. Hard drive capacity just can't get much bigger.

Today, storing one bit of data requires about 1 million magnetically charged atoms. IBM in January announced that it got that down to just 12 atoms. That breakthrough represents storage 100 times denser than it is on today's hard disk drives.

First, the bad news: IBM could only hit its milestone temporarily, in a lab, with a scanning tunneling electron microscope, at temperatures approaching absolute zero.

The good news is that the company believes it can eventually use its research to bring something to market that is significantly denser and more capacious than today's storage devices.

The result? You might be able to store your entire music collection on an iPod shuffle. And you could one day see 250-terabyte hard drives at your local electronics store. -David Goldman


@CNNMoneyTech - Last updated March 28 2012: 11:53 AM ET
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