CES - Toshiba debuts 1.8-in. external hard drives

Hopes it can offset declining sales of 1.8-in. internal drives

Toshiba took the covers off its new personal storage line Sunday by introducing its Toshiba 1.8-in. USB 2.0 Mobile External Hard Drive line.

The product line will be offered in 60GB, 80GB and 120GB models, each with a USB cable. The devices will ship next spring, said officials of the Toshiba Storage Device Division, a business unit of Toshiba. The new mobile external hard drives will run encryption and backup software to boost data protection, Toshiba said.

The personal storage devices were unveiled Sunday at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

At the event, Toshiba also plans to unveil a new 2.5-in. USB 2.0 Portable External Hard Drive with a capacity of 320GB. The company's previous high-end 2.5-in. model could store up to 250GB of data. The new device can store up to 91,000 digital photos, 84,000 MP3 files, 142 hours of non-DVD videos or 37 hours of high-definition video content, said Toshiba.

The new 2.5-in. drive is available this month for about US$200.

Wolfgang Schlichting, an analyst at Massachusetts-based IDC, said Toshiba's entry into the 1.8-in. external hard drive arena resulted from its search for new businesses in the wake of slowing sales of Apple's iPod, which use Toshiba's 1.8-in. internal drives.

Schlichting did note that the shelf life for the 1.8-in. external disk may also be declining with the growing demand for flash-based storage.

"The 1-in. [hard drive] is now disappearing and fell to the increased capacity of flash-based storage solutions. In the long run, that could be the fate of 1.8 as well," said Schlichting.

Schlichting said that end-user demand to store data on 2.5-in. and 3.5-in. hard drives remains strong. Leading manufacturers of hard drives appear to be taking notice. Recent moves by Hitachi and Fujitsu signal that vendors are taking steps to move away from building 1.8-in. and smaller hard drives in favor of improving flash memory development.

Toshiba, which said it has shipped 60 million 1.8-in. internal hard drives, remains committed to the technology, said Maciek Brzeski, vice president of marketing for the Toshiba Storage Device Division.

"We are strongly committed to this form factor. It is a new market that is evolving and we are sad to see competitors withdraw from [small form-factor hard drive] markets," noted Brzeski.

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Brian Fonseca

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