Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hard Disk Architecture

A hard disk drive with the platters and motor hub removed showing the copper colored stator coils surrounding a bearing at the center of the spindle motor. The orange stripe along the side of the arm is a thin printed-circuit cable. The spindle bearing is in the center.

A typical hard drive has two electric motors, one to spin the disks and one to position the read/write head assembly. The disk motor has an external rotor attached to the platters; the stator windings are fixed in place. The actuator has a read-write head under the tip of its very end (near center); a thin printed-circuit cable connects the read-write head to the hub of the actuator. A flexible, somewhat 'U'-shaped, ribbon cable, seen edge-on below and to the left of the actuator arm in the first image and more clearly in the second, continues the connection from the head to the controller board on the opposite side.

The head support arm is very light, but also rigid; in modern drives, acceleration at the head reaches 550 Gs.

Opened hard drive with top magnet removed, showing copper head actuator coil (top right).

The silver-colored structure at the upper left of the first image is the top plate of the permanent-magnet and moving coil motor that swings the heads to the desired position (it is shown removed in the second image). The plate supports a thin neodymium-iron-boron (NIB) high-flux magnet. Beneath this plate is the moving coil, often referred to as the voice coil by analogy to the coil inloudspeakers, which is attached to the actuator hub, and beneath that is a second NIB magnet, mounted on the bottom plate of the motor (some drives only have one magnet).

The voice coil itself is shaped rather like an arrowhead, and made of doubly coated copper magnet wire. The inner layer is insulation, and the outer is thermoplastic, which bonds the coil together after it's wound on a form, making it self-supporting. The portions of the coil along the two sides of the arrowhead (which point to the actuator bearing center) interact with the magnetic field, developing a tangential force that rotates the actuator. Current flowing radially outward along one side of the arrowhead and radially inward on the other produces the tangential force. If the magnetic field were uniform, each side would generate opposing forces that would cancel each other out. Therefore the surface of the magnet is half N pole, half S pole, with the radial dividing line in the middle, causing the two sides of the coil to see opposite magnetic fields and produce forces that add instead of canceling. Currents along the top and bottom of the coil produce radial forces that do not rotate the head.

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