2000: Hard drives double up again

Expect next year to be another banner year for desktop hard drives. Drives that debuted in 2000 are likely to offer even higher capacities at the same sub-$US200 prices of recent years, with the price/capacity "sweet spot" of 10 to 12GB per drive expected to reach 20GB or possibly 30GB by year's end.

Performance is also likely to improve, with more drives spinning at 7,200 rpm (revolutions per minute) instead of today's typical 5,400 rpm. Also, a faster hard drive connection for PCs, called ATA/100, is expected to ship in higher-priced systems by summer.

All this information is the consensus of a handful of analysts and hardware vendors who were asked to share their inside views of the 2000 product pipeline.

For perhaps $200 more per drive, high-end desktop and workstation power users will have their pick of 35GB drives early in the year, says Jim Porter, president of the Disk/Trend research firm. Same-price capacities could grow to near 80GB by late 2000. The better desktop drives will also move to 7,200 rpm, improving their data-transfer rates, Porter says.

Hard drive vendors tend to save their best performance and highest capacities for network server drives. Porter says capacities on these drives will double by late 2000 from the industry-topping 73GB on IBM's Ultrastar 72ZX, which is expected to ship in the first quarter.

Squeezing Data

These double-digit capacities are the result of manufacturers' continuing success at squeezing more and more data onto each side of the magnetic disks, or platters, inside every hard drive. To control drive prices and capacities, vendors vary the number of disks, recordable disk surfaces, and read/write heads, says Gary Gentry, vice president of strategic marketing for Seagate Technologies.

Gentry says drive companies have all achieved data densities of around 5GB per side and are likely to emphasise single-disk drives or two-disk drives in which one platter is sometimes left blank. That will translate into common drive capacities of 10, 15, and 20GB.

Drive access times have more or less stabilised at just under 8 ms (milliseconds) on 7,200 rpm drives, and 9.5 to 9.9 ms on 5,400 rpm models, Gentry adds.

Significant improvements are unlikely because they're less cost effective than boosting capacity or rotational speed. However, Gentry expects the emerging ATA/100 standard to relieve a bottleneck that now "throttles" many drives running on older ATA/66 and ATA/33 hardware. The faster connection will boost drives' data-transfer rates still further.

"By summer, we're going to definitely have the ATA/100 standard," Gentry predicts.

Product managers at Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard confirmed their intention to double their PCs' hard drive capacity from 10GB now to 20GB or higher in 2000.

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