CES - Removable hard disk group to show new device

A consortium of companies developing a removable hard disk system for consumer use called iVDR (Information Versatile Disk for Removable usage) plan to unveil a prototype 1.8 inch drive with a serial ATA interface for the first time at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in January.

The event, which takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada, will also be the first time the iVDR system has been shown outside of Japan.

At CES, three prototypes are expected to be showcased including a 2.5-inch iVDR disk with a parallel ATA interface, and a 2.5 and 1.8-inch iVDR drive with a faster and less costly serial ATA interface, said Toshiaki Hioki, a consortium representative from Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. The drives will be shown at the booth of Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, the new hard disk drive company being established by Hitachi Ltd. after it acquired IBM Corp.'s hard disk unit in June.

Alongside the prototype disks, several devices supporting iVDR from other consortium members will be exhibited including a personal computer, a drive and a television.

The iVDR removable hard disk was proposed by eight electronics companies -- Canon Inc., Fujitsu Ltd., Hitachi, Phoenix Technologies KK, Pioneer Corp., Sanyo, Sharp Corp. and Victor Co. of Japan Ltd. (JVC) -- which formed a consortium in March. The consortium now consists of a total of 28 members, including hard disk drive makers Maxtor Corp. and Seagate Technology LLC, Hioki said.

By standardizing, promoting and licensing this new swappable removable hard disk system, the consortium members hope to solve two problems, said Hioki.

One is that as maximum hard disk drive capacity doubles each year, consumers need to keep buying new products to catch up with the latest drive technology.

The other is that since hard disk vendors keep adding more data capacity to their products, the price of the top-of-the-range hard disk drive does not change considerably meaning products, which often include the latest drives, also don't become much cheaper.

Since the establishment of the consortium in March this year, the members first developed the 2.5-inch iVDR drive and released basic specifications for hardware, a parallel ATA interface and file formats for the development of computer peripherals, Hioki said.

The consortium is now working on the establishment of specifications for the newer serial ATA interface for the 2.5-inch iVDR disk, and also, for the 1.8-inch iVDR disk. This smaller hard disk is expected to be adopted in applications like car navigation systems and audio players.

The serial ATA interface specifications for both sizes are expected to be released after they are approved by the consortium members at a general meeting in March next year.

Serial ATA offers some benefits over parallel ATA. It offers a data transmission speed of 150M bps (bits per second) and above compared to up to 100M bps for the parallel system. For equipment designers, it is also easier to work with because cables are simpler and it requires a lower voltage.

The 1.8-inch iVDR will be slightly thinner than a 2.5-inch iVDR disk, which measures 130 millimeters wide by 80 millimeters deep by 12.7 millimeters high. This will allow the 1.8-inch disk to be fitted into a 2.5-inch size slot with an adaptor, Hioki said.

Currently an iVDR disk can hold up to 80G bytes, which is expected to be doubled by the first quarter next year, and costs around ¥20,000 to ¥30,000 (US$166 to $249), Hioki said. "This price may be acceptable for a computer peripheral but not for consumer electronics," he said.

For consumer electronics, such as a video recorder, the consortium aims to reduce the disk price to be under ¥10,000, Hioki said.

"I hope we can attract many computer peripheral makers at CES, so that the iVDR system will start spreading and be used in personal computers first. This will reduce the price of the hard disk and eventually, will allow consumer electronics to be equipped with an iVDR slot," Hioki said.

One more hurdle to clear for iVDR in the use of consumer electronics is that of a copyright protection format. The consortium plans to approach the movie industry soon and hopes to complete the standardization of its copy protection code by March, next year, Hioki said.

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