The materials used in magnetic recording heads have recently received a tremendous amount of attention. This has been the result of a fortunate set of circumstances. Ever-increasing demands for information storage, especially for graphics-intensive applications, have necessitated unprecedented increases in disk-drive areal densities. Combined with this are recent discoveries in the area of magnetoresistive materials, enabling the design and fabrication of much more sensitive recording heads. The end result is a flurry of activity that has come to dominate the field of magnetics. This article will explore choices for magnetoresistive read head materials, with an emphasis on the materials challenges.
The recording heads that are used in high-performance disk drives typically consist of separate magnetoresistive read and inductive write heads (see Figure 1) where previously a single inductive head performed both functions. Separation of the two heads allows each to be optimized for their individual function, an essential factor in enabling disk drives to contain gigabytes of storage. The write head is the simpler of the two, consisting of a U-shaped ferromagnet surrounding a set of coils. The ends of the ferromagnet are the magnetic poles defining the write gap. When current passes through the coils, a field bridges the gap, setting the orientation of the magnetization in the media. Information is stored by changing the polarity of the current in order to write a pattern of magnetic domains in the media. The materials used in write poles will be reviewed in the section, Write Head Materials.