IBM hoping new 'pixie dust' hard disk drives fly

IBM Corp. on Wednesday launched three hard disk drive products --the Deskstar 120GXP, the Travelstar 60GH and the Travelstar 40GN -- that include its magnetic coating technology, nicknamed "pixie dust".

The pixie dust technology, announced by IBM last May, gained its nickname because of the atomic size of the metal used to store data on the hard drive. It is officially called antiferromagnetically coupled (AFC) media, and works by putting a three-atom-thick layer of Ruthenium (Ru) -- a precious metal similar to platinum -- between two magnetic layers on a disk. The technology allows hard disk drives to store four times as much data per square inch of disk area as previous hard drives, IBM said in a statement. IBM predicts that with the pixie dust technology its hard-disk densities will reach 100G bits per square inch by 2003, meaning that its hard drives could come with capacities of 400G bytes for desktop drives and 200G bytes for notebooks, IBM said.

IBM's Deskstar 120GXP features a 3.5 inch desktop hard drive with a 120G byte capacity and with a speed of 7200 rpm (rotations per minute), the company said. The Travelstar 60GH has 60G bytes of storage capacity and runs at 5400 rpm, making it, according to IBM, the highest-capacity, highest-performing 2.5 inch notebook drive on the market. The 40GN family of 2.5 inch notebook hard disk drives can offer capacities of 40G byte, 30G byte, 20G byte or 10G byte at 20G bytes per disk and runs at 4200 rpm, IBM said.

The Deskstar 120GXP, which will be made available by the end of the month, is expected to retail at US$349, IBM said. It will also come in capacities of 80G bytes for $269 and 40G bytes for $169, an IBM spokeswoman said.

The new Travelstar drives are available immediately and will retail for $429 for the Travelstar 60GH and $225 for the Travelstar 40GN, IBM said.

Fujitsu Ltd. is using similar technology. Fujitsu's SF Media uses a recording medium made up of two magnetic layers separated by a thin layer of Ruthenium. Fujitsu expects its first commercial products with SF Media to debut in the first or second quarter of 2002. Maxtor Corp. and Seagate Technology Inc. offer competition in terms of storage capacity, although using different technology. Maxtor's extra-large hard drive for storage, the DiamondMax D540X, can stack two double-sided platters to achieve 80G byte capacities while spinning at 5400 rpm while the U series drives from Seagate Technology are being billed as the first-ever 40G byte-per-platter drives. Both drives were announced in June, but in contrast to IBM and Fujitsu's new technology, Maxtor and Seagate are not moving to new processes, opting instead to refine their existing technologies.

Australian availability has yet to be determined.

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Laura Rohde

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