January 6, 2004 2:31 PM PST

Hitachi hard drive at heart of new iPod

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Apple Computer is using a small hard drive from Hitachi in its new iPod, as the market for mini drives heats up.

The 4GB drive, which measures 1 inch across, marks Hitachi's second major contract in the music player field. Last October, Dell came out with a music player that contained a 1.8-inch Hitachi drive.

Apple did not state which company is manufacturing the drive for the new iPods, but sources close to Hitachi confirmed it is the Japanese computing giant.

The process of elimination is also fairly straightforward on this issue, because there are only three companies with product plans in this area. Cornice, a start-up that makes a 2GB minidrive that can be found in music players from Digital Networks North America (makers of the Rio line), said it wasn't involved, and Toshiba, which manufacturers 1.8-inch drives for Apple's other iPods, won't come out with a drive in the 1-inch range until late this year.

The hard drive has emerged as one of the key components in the push to bring PC technologies to the home. Personal video recorders from TiVo and others depend on hard drives to store recorded TV programs. Samsung has shown off a small video camera that relies on a 1-inch hard drive.

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The iPod has also helped popularize portable music players with hard drives. More portable music players actually depend on flash memory to store music, but flash players can't achieve the same capacity, and they feature only about 256MB, versus several gigabytes, of storage space.

Until recently, in fact, the market for small hard drives, defined as drives with a diameter of 1.8 inches or less, has been sort of a sleepy place. IBM originally designed the 1-inch drive, which it called the micro drive, in the 1990s, but it sold in low numbers. Toshiba was the first major manufacturer of 1.8-inch drives, but to date, the vast majority of the drives have been incorporated into iPods.

Last year, Hitachi and Cornice both jumped into the market. Hitachi acquired the technology when it purchased IBM's hard-drive business in 2002.

 

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