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Hitachi shrinks hard drives, expands capacity

Hitachi shrinks hard drives, expands capacity

Hitachi has started shipping 8GB versions of its 1-inch hard disk drive, which are also smaller and use less power.

Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) has started shipping a higher capacity version of its Microdrive 1-inch hard-disk drive and has made improvements to its 1.8-inch Travelstar drives, the company said Friday.

The drives are commonly used in portable consumer electronics devices like digital music players and products featuring the drives with increased capacity could be available before the end of the year, HGST said.

The company's current highest-capacity Microdrive is a 6G-byte model and the new drives will be available in capacities of 6G bytes and 8G bytes. In the case of the 8G-byte drive the extra space is enough for about 500 more average-size MP3 songs. In addition to the capacity boost offered by one of the new drives, they have several improvements over existing models: Size has been reduced by around 20 percent and power consumption has been cut by 40 percent, the company said.

The drives are already available in small quantities and mass production will begin in October, according to HGST's current plans. In December, additional versions of the drives will be available that incorporate a new shock protection system and different interfaces for consumer electronics products.

The shock protection system, dubbed ESP or 'extra sensory protection' by HGST, is capable of detecting when the drive is in free fall and then moving the drive head away from the disk. Any impact to the drive, such as being dropped, can cause the head to smash into the disk, thus ruining the drive and often destroying the data stored on it. Hard drives already include some shock protection but the new system improves this capability and can work from drops of as little as 4 inches, said Larry Swezey, deputy general manage of HGST's hard-disk drive business unit.

The system is particularly required on the new drives because consumer electronics devices are likely to be dropped more often than notebook computers, HGST said.

The new 1.8-inch Travelstar drives also incorporate the improved shock-protection technology and have also been made thinner through the use of a smaller read/write head and lower-profile motor. The new 30G-byte drive is 5 millimeters thick versus 7mm for the previous model, while the 60G-byte drive has been slimmed down from 9.5mm to 8mm. HGST will start shipping the former model this month and the latter model sometime in the first quarter of 2006.

The new drives make good on a promise delivered by HGST at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January this year. At that time, the company laid out plans for new drives and promised they would be available by the end of the year. It said the new Microdrive would have a capacity of between 8G bytes and 10G bytes and the new 1.8-inch drive would come in at between 60G bytes and 80G bytes.

"Back then we weren't sure about what capacity point would be needed by the market," said Swezey of why the new drives both come in at the low end of HGST's original estimate. "The overwhelming message from customers was that they want [the drives available in high volumes] in time for the major consumer shopping season. Another reason is cost. If you spend more money on technology you can achieve a higher capacity but one of the tough rules about consumer electronics is that it's all about cost."


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