IBM enhances Pixie Dust for 80G mobile drive

IBM Corp. says an enhancement to its 'Pixie Dust' technology has enabled it to break the current storage density record for hard disk drives and to produce the highest capacity mobile hard disk drive yet.

The Travelstar 80GN, samples of which are already being sent to notebook computer makers, is expected to be available in early 2003 and has a capacity of 80G bytes.

The density with which data can be packed together on the surface of the new drive, called areal density, is 70G bits per square inch (bpsi), said IBM.

Because hard disk drives are built to a common size, it becomes impossible to increase the storage capacity by adding more physical storage space. To move ahead, engineers are working on technologies that allow more data to be crammed into the fixed amount of space available.

IBM's Pixie Dust, announced in May 2001, is one such technology. It involves sandwiching a three-atom-thick layer of the precious metal ruthenium between two magnetic layers. That seemingly simple step allowed researchers to increase the areal storage density. At the time of the announcement, the company had managed to achieve an areal density of 25.7G bpsi. To increase it to the 70G bpsi announced Wednesday, researchers added an additional layer of ruthenium and an additional magnetic layer to make a five-layer sandwich.

The announcement marks a big step towards the 100G bpsi areal density that the company predicted would be realized in 2003. It also places the company ahead of Japan's Toshiba Corp. and Fujitsu Ltd., which earlier this year announced they had achieved areal densities of 52G bpsi and 53.2G bpsi respectively.

The pay-off for notebook computer users is an increase in storage capacity. Toshiba and Fujitsu have managed to produce 60G-byte hard disk drives using their technology while IBM's jump will realize a 80G-byte drive.

IBM additionally announced that it plans for a new class of Travelstar mobile hard disk drives with rotational speeds of 7,200 revolutions per minute (rpm). That compares to the 5,400 rpm speed of IBM's current fastest mobile disk drives and is similar to the speed of drives found in most desktop computers. In contrast, the Travelstar 80GN announced Wednesday has a speed of 4,200 rpm. Drives at all three speeds will benefit from the enhanced Pixie Dust technology, said IBM.

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