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Thin films of hydrogenated amorphous carbon for magnetic data storage media have been examined by atomic force microscopy. The topography of several coatings has been imaged with a lateral resolution of a few nanometers. Histograms of the height distribution and rms values have been calculated to characterize the roughness of the surfaces quantitatively. Variations of these microscopic properties could be related to changes in the macroscopic behavior like friction and wear.