Hitachi and Intel join on mobile phone drives

Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) and Intel are pushing the development of an interface technology that they hope will smooth the adoption of compact hard-disk drives (HDDs) into mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and digital music players, the companies said on Friday.

Hitachi and Intel are pushing to develop an interface standard called CE-ATA (Consumer Electronics-Advanced Technology Attachment) that will lead to products from Hitachi by August 2005, John Osterhout, director of business development at Hitachi Global Storage Technologies said in a telephone interview on Friday.

While the specifications have yet to be decided, the CE-ATA will have fewer pins, consume less electricity, and be cheaper than other interfaces such as ZIF (zero insertion force) connectors that are commonly used for small consumer-electronic devices such as portable digital music players. Specifications for the standard will be complete by June 2005, Osterhout said.

Marvell Semiconductor, Seagate Technology, and Toshiba America Information Systems are backing the new interface standard, and more partners will follow, he said.

"If you look at the other interfaces around, none of them are completely adequate for handheld devices. Hitachi has been selling microdrives for five years, and we know OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are saying that nothing is a perfect fit," he said.

Several large mobile phone makers have already expressed interested in the new standard, he said. He would not identify the manufacturers.

Earlier this week, Samsung Electronics, which is challenging Motorola to become the number two maker of mobile phones, said it plans to start selling the world's first mobile phone with a hard-disk drive. The SPH-V5400 is a clamshell phone with a 1.5G byte disk drive and a megapixel-class digital still camera. It plays music files stored in MP3 format, and has a built-in FM transmitter. The SPH-V5400 can store about 15 times more data than conventional handsets, Samsung said.

The possibility of putting hard-disk drives in phones began to be talked about a year ago as makers added more multimedia functions, needing more installed memory. Meanwhile, disk drive makers are putting more capacity into smaller drives. HGST, Cornice and GS Magicstor make 1.0-inch drives. Seagate said this June that it will begin selling a 1.0-inch drive during the third quarter of this year. Seagate makes two versions, with capacities of 2.5G bytes and 5G bytes. This August, Toshiba announced that it had created a 1.8-inch drive with a capacity of 60G bytes.

Toshiba will also be sampling a 0.85-inch drive that has a capacity of up to 4G bytes. Toshiba has yet to finalize the capacity, but the drive will be available before Dec. 31 this year, according to Makoto Yasuda, a company spokesman. Toshiba said in January that it expected to put the drive into mobile phones and portable digital music players. Apple Computer's iPod and iPod mini use 1.8-inch and 1.0-inch drives respectively.

According to market research firm IDC, worldwide portable digital music player shipments will reach more than 25 million units in 2008. The company forecasts that more than 25 million digital video recorders and 40 million video game units will be shipped the same year.

Although the companies backing CE-ATA are few in number, they don't lack muscle, Osterhout said.

"Hitachi and Toshiba are major HDD makers, Marvell is developing ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) and Seagate is just coming to the business. Intel has been pushing standardization activities for 20 years," he said.

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