Seagate redesigns drives

Seagate Technology is preparing a major revamp of its disk drives, and is expected to introduce smaller physical and larger capacity drives in keeping with the rest of the market.

The company will make the announcement in mid-June. It will affect the entire range of drives and reflect increased areal density, gaining 75GB/platter. Brian Dexheimer, Seagate's executive VP for sales and marketing, said: "We will be making announcements in the next 30 days around the entire range: 3.5 inch to sub 2.5-inch." At the 10,000 rpm enterprise drive level, expect 73GB through to 300GB capacity levels, using the existing 4-platter design.

This brings Seagate up to the same level as announcements from Fujitsu, Hitachi GST and Maxtor.

There has been interest in whether such large drives are needed. But Seagate's entry would appear to support the view that they are, particularly for nearline storage.

The company will also announce new 7,200 rpm drives. Dexheimer said we should expect 120GB and 300GB+ capacity points. Capacity can be higher if rotation speed is less than 10,000 rpm. So possibly a 320GB drive with an areal density level providing 85GB per platter, possibly higher.

Dexheimer confirmed that Seagate will enter the sub-notebook area where the current form factors are 1.8 inch, 1.0 inch and 0.85 inch. Our estimation is that a 1.8 inch drive will be announced, possibly with a 1.0 inch to follow.

CEO Bill Watkins said that Seagate was "at end of a two year cycle of products". The new announcements will thus set the scene for the next couple of years. Current drive technology is reaching its limits. Watkins expects perpendicular recording to initially appear in two years' time and provide up to 500Gbits per square inch. In four or five years' time, HAMR (heat-assisted magnetic recording) will possibly be introduced and take us to 1Tbits per square inch.

Seagate recently announced poor results and Watkins ascribed part of this at least to Hitachi GST's success in notebook drives. He explained: "Notebook has grown really fast and Hitachi GST has really taken advantage of that. Hitachi GST has come out of the IBM disk operation merger very well. It's a credible competitor. They've done the merger better than I thought they would. My personal feeling is they got lucky on the notebooks."

Dexheimer made clear that Seagate regards itself as leading the serialized interface space. He said: "We've actually shipped more SATA drives than anyone else in the industry. We are (also) the leader far and away with SAS. We think we're going to be the first to market with SAS. We feel like we're very well positioned in serial architectures."

Seagate is increasing its manufacturing capacity. It is building a second plant in Singapore, for media manufacturing with a US$150 million investment. It is also planning to expand capacity in Thailand to build drives. The company already makes heads there. The new plant will be ready sometime in the next 12 months.

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