April 3, 2006 9:00 PM PDT

Can a new hard drive meet the flash challenge?

Hard-drive manufacturers are contemplating a new-size hard drive to counter the challenge presented by flash memory.

Drives with platters measuring 1.3 inches in diameter are being discussed, according to Bill Healy, a Hitachi senior vice president of corporate strategy and marketing.

CinemaStar
The hard drive inside
Hitachi's CinemaStar DVR.

These drives would hold far more data than the smaller 1-inch and 0.85-inch diameter microdrives now on the market, yet take less space and consume less energy than the 1.8-inch drives found in standard-size iPods and mini-notebooks.

"It gives you more competition with flash and doubles the capacity over 1-inch," Healy said.

Discussions are only preliminary, but such a move could help manufacturers of hard drives--a technology that celebrates its 50th year in 2006--expand their position in the consumer electronics market.

Consumer electronics have served as a lifeline for drivemakers, which tend to bounce in and out of profitability. Hard-drive shipments for consumer electronics will grow by about 35 percent this year, expanding from about 60 million units to over 80 million units, said John Donovan, an analyst at research firm TrendFocus.

Overall, the hard-drive market will increase 18 percent, from 380 million in 2005 to 450 million drives in 2006. Most will still go to the PC industry.

Many of these drives measure 3.5-inches across and go into digital video recorders and TVs. Hitachi, for instance, has released a TV in Japan that has a built-in digital video recorder (DVR) with 1 terabyte of video storage.

Hitachi is rolling out a new line of drives this week for DVRs. The CinemaStar hard drives have been tweaked to run more quietly than their desktop counterparts, the company said.

The drive industry, however, has lost some of its luster for music players. Hardware makers began inserting microdrives into music players in 2003, and their popularity zoomed after Apple Computer put one inside its iPod Mini in 2004. It was a watershed application--drivemakers have been looking for a high-volume application for microdrives since IBM (which sold its drive division to Hitachi in 2002) invented them in 1999.

The honeymoon was short-lived. Apple released the iPod Nano in 2005. It relies on flash memory, which is more expensive but faster than microdrives. Microdrives have landed inside some phones and video cameras, but mostly only in high-end models.

"The microdrive is tough right now," Healy said. "Flash has certainly come in and affected that business."

Increasing the diameter size would expand storage so that the 1.3-inch drives could be used in video players. Currently, one-inch microdrives max out at 8GB (too small for conveniently storing lots of video), while 1.8-inch drives can pack in 80GB. A 1.3-inch drive would provide storage somewhere in between and conceivably provide it as a far lower cost than flash memory.

"You'd have more space on the platter, but it all depends on what the customer base says," said Rob Plait, the director of global consumer electronics marketing at Seagate Technology. "The disk drive industry has been talking about the technology for a few months."

CONTINUED: Quiet does it for CinemaStar…
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7 comments

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Codenamed: Deathstar Drives...
If any of you have had to deal with the former IBM Deskstar (aka Deathstar) drives, good luck to Hitachi.
What we really need here is a revolution (pun) to stop putting mechanical drives in computers to depend on for data. It is the failure point for data loss. Not powerloss. Not cooling. But using a mechanical means to store your data. And it's slow.
Notice how the manufacturers are keeping the drives now at one year warranty. Only a few drives are 3-5 years (Raptors and SCSI). And a convoluted replacement scheme: You send your under-warranty but failed drive in (to 3rd party) for data recovery, meanwhile the manufacturer wants a deposit for a replacement drive and mandates you return the defective within 14 days or be charged MSRP for the replacement. It may take 14 days (unless you pay a premium) to turnaround your data and get your original drive back (opened and voided warranty) to exhange for the new warranty replacement.
Makes you want to become a Luddite.
Posted by Below Meigh (249 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Use wisely - use wisely
I have a 40Gb external drive. But I don't worry too much about mechanical failure.

Q. Why ?
A. Because I do NOT use it for permanent storage. I configure it as a (semi-permanent), mobile image. I mainly use it to ship data between home & work machine's. I have images on each machine & load up the drive, unplug, get to the destination, plug in, upload. It uses USB 2 & it's plenty fast enough for almost anything except real time streaming video.

It's a great alternative to a laptop, if you just want something smaller than an iPod, to transport your data. If you want to work en route, take a laptop, if not, just take the drive, containing a COPY of your data.

Mine's got mp3s, pictures & all sorts of project data. I do have about 25-30 Gb on it, depending on the project files, so a USB keychain is NOT an alternative.
Posted by (409 comments )
Link Flag
That's what RAIDs are for....
No storage solution is perfect. You MUST back up your data on any storage solution to aviod losing it.

Whether you use raid or choose to use a second drive to store an image of your first drive (like Acronis TrueImage), you need to do some type of backup.

The flash drives also have a limitation that I hardly see mentioned. You cannot write to them indefinitely. Most have a very limited read/write lifetime. And this write lifetime of flash drives is significantly lower than that of mechanical hard drives.
Posted by Jim Hubbard (326 comments )
Link Flag
breathe life into the floppy
I've noticed that the venerable 1.44 mb floppy disc is hanging in there--many of us or our companies have bought usb external drives when our new computers didn't come with one, because so many of us have important data still archived on them and because they are cheap, disposable, reusable ways to share small amounts of data--I think there's a real market for a "next-gen" floppy to insert in those drives and hold a lot more data. Whoever gives us an 8gb floppy will find a profitable market...
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ZIP
The ZIP drive was the answer to a higher capacity floppy. It didn't really get widespread use because it is SLOW. ZIP drives run about the same speed as a floppy drive and the media is EXPENSIVE. It is much easier to buy CDRs and just use a new CD each time instead of buying one ZIP disk. I say for slightly small storage and easy transportability, use a flash drive. For anything else, get an external hard drive. I have an external hard drive that was salvaged from an old hard drive that works on USB2 and does everything I could ever need for transporting large amounts of data.
Posted by lukenova (6 comments )
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Posted by cnet123_20 (2 comments )
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