An ultrathin (<4 nm) film of amorphous carbon (a-C) is used in contemporary disk drives to protect the magnetic medium of the hard disk from corrosion and mechanical wear due to intermittent impact of the low-flying magnetic head. Because of increasing demands for much higher magnetic storage densities (i.e., >10 Tbits/in2), the a-C film thickness must be decreased to <2 nm. However, the tribological and mechanical properties of such thin a-C films are not well understood and, moreover, are extremely difficult to determine experimentally. The objective of this study was to obtain insight into the tribological behavior of ultrathin a-C films by performing molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. MD results of the hardness and friction properties of nanometer-thick a-C films are interpreted in terms of the ratio of tetrahedral-to-trigonal carbon atom hybridization. A critical thickness for the effective protection of the magnetic medium by the a-C film is estimated from MD results. The results of this study elucidate the nanomechanical and nanotribological properties of ultrathin a-C films used as protective overcoats in extremely-high-density magnetic recording.

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