Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) has begun shipping a new version of its 1-inch Microdrive hard-disk drive that can hold 50 per cent more data than the company's current highest capacity model.
The 6GB version of the drive is notable not just for its higher capacity but also because it marks a shift in HGST pricing for the diminutive drive family. The new drive would cost $US299, which is a 40 per cent reduction from the $US499 price at which HGST has introduced new Microdrive products in the past, senior vice-president of product strategy and marketing at HGST, Bill Healy, said. The company was also lowering the price of its 4GB Microdrive to $US199.
Customers who bought the drive in bulk for use in their own products had enjoyed regular price cuts for sometime, Healy said.
HGST customers include Apple Computer, which uses the 4GB Microdrive in its iPod Mini music player and on Wednesday announced a 6GB version of the player.
The higher capacity drive and lower prices will probably increase competition in the market for small-size hard-disk drives. HGST competes against several companies including Seagate, Cornice and China's GS Magicstor.
Fujitsu recently said that it was also considering entering the market.
Currently, these companies are largely chasing business from manufacturers of portable audio players, like the iPod. The market for such devices was estimated to be about 12 million units in 2004 and will be about 35 million in 2008, according to a December report from IDC.
"We are aiming for the music player market," Healy said. "We hope to bring [the Microdrive] to newer applications like cell phones in the  timeframe." The capacity increase in the new drive is possible because HGST is packing data more tightly on the disk's surface. The new drive's areal density, which is the standard measure for disk drives, is 78G bits of data per square inch versus 56.5G bits per square inch in the current 4GB drive, the company said.
At January's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, HGST announced plans to have an even higher capacity Microdrive out in the second half of this year. That drive will offer a capacity of between 8GB and 10GB. It will also drop the Compact Flash interface for a zero insertion force (ZIF) connector of the type favoured by consumer electronics makers.
HGST confirmed those plans remained on track with the launch of the 6GB drive.
It said the drive filled a spot in the product line between the current 4GB model and higher capacity versions coming later this year.