Magneto Optical ( MO ) Technology
Magneto Optical disk drives
are a specific class of data storage device which uses a hybrid
of Magnetic and Optical Technology. First developed at the end
of the 1980s they use optical disk media which has an active
The magnetic layer can only change state when the optical layer
is heated by a high powered laser beyond the "Curie"
Within the mechanism of a Magneto Optical Drive the observer
may recognise a similar carriage and laser arrangement to an
Early CD rom unit, but in addition there will be a large mechanically
fixed electro magnet which spans the radius of the disk area.
The magnet is only used in the data writing or erase processes,
it writes each individual bit as the high powered laser locates,
focusses and heats the attached optical substrate. To simplify,
the laser finds the disk location and the magnet writes the
See graphic below.
When reading data, the magneto optical drive uses only reflected
low power laser light to determine zeros and ones. It does this
by comparing the laser light and its reflection from the MO
media. What is actually detected is the plane of polarisation,
and whether it is rotated clockwise or anticlockwise. One state
representing "1", the other "0". This rotation
is interpreted and converted to readable data by the drive electonics.
Here we see diagram of the reading phase
of an MO drive.
Kerr Rotation is the effect where the phase of polarised
light can be observed to be altered.
Erasing and Rewriting on an MO disk is a two pass process,
because the relevent section must be first returned to the erased
state before it can have data written. This is done by heating
the area to be erased, while applying the negative magnetic
charge. On the next pass, data can be written as normal.
In almost all cases, an MO drive can be seen by the operating
system as a standard disk volume and treated as such. In this
way the media can be formatted to any one of a number of formats.
Using more recent operating systems the installation is plug
and play, with no extra preperation. During the 1990s, software
drivers and patches had to be installed to enable the operating
system to see the optical drive. This is not an issue with contemporary
operating systems like Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 or Apple
OS X, because they all have these drivers built in as an integral
part of the operating system..