Hitachi plans big boost for small drives

Hitachi Global Storage Technologies Inc. (HGST) is planning to at least double the capacity of its 1-inch Microdrive hard-disk drive within this year, the company said Tuesday as events ahead of the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) began in Las Vegas.

The small drives are currently finding favor in a growing number of portable consumer electronics devices, such as digital music players, and the greater capacity coupled with a reduction in the space the drives take up should help device makers keep portable multimedia devices small and feature-rich.

At present Hitachi's most capacious Microdrive can hold 4G bytes of data, but the new drives, due in the second half of this year, will be able to hold between 8G bytes and 10G bytes, said Bill Healy, senior vice president of product strategy and marketing at HGST.

In addition to offering more storage space, the drives will also occupy about 20 percent less volume than current models, said Healy. One of the biggest space savings will come from replacing the Compact Flash interface with a ZIF (zero insertion force) connector of the type favored by consumer electronics makers.

Beyond offering more storage capacity in new generations of the products in which they are now used, the drives could also end up in other types of devices. At present, any device that has to have more than about 5G bytes of storage requires a larger 1.8-inch drive. The benefits of being able to use a smaller drive are obvious if you consider Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod and iPod Mini. The former uses a 1.8-inch drive, while the latter uses a 1-inch drive.

In the same market segment, one of Hitachi's competitors, Longmont, Colorado-based Cornice Inc., is using the CES to announce plans for a 3G byte version of its 1-inch drive. That product is due in the early part of this year.

Hitachi will also employ similar space-saving techniques to its 1.8-inch drive family, said Healy.

New versions of 1.8-inch drives, also expected in the second half of this year, will feature ZIF connectors and weigh 49 grams. A drive with one platter will offer between 30G bytes and 40G bytes of capacity, and one with a double platter will have between 60G bytes and 80G bytes of capacity, said Healy. Additionally, the drives will offer better shock resistance.

The company also announced a 3.5-inch drive that it says offers a greater storage capacity than any drive from its competitors. The 500G-byte drive is designed for products such as digital video recorders and will be available to recorder makers during the first quarter of this year, said Healy.

The company will also offer two additional 3.5-inch drives aimed at the same market. One has an 80G-byte capacity and the other offers 250G bytes of storage space.

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