December 10, 2003 2:31 PM PST

Toshiba to get into microdrives

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At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next month, Toshiba will unveil a hard drive that measures less than an inch across, as the mini-mass-storage market marches on.

The drive, about the same size as a quarter, will go inside MP3 players, set-top boxes and other consumer-electronic goods, according to sources close to the company. The capacity of the new drive is not yet known, but Hitachi and others currently sell 1-inch diameter hard drives (also known as microdrives) that can hold 1GB to 4GB of data.

Increasing densities, shrinking sizes and declining prices have allowed the hard drive to become firmly ensconced in consumer electronics products. TiVo and other personal video recorders rely on hard drives to store date. A number of music players, most notably Apple Computer's iPod, have taken advantage of smaller drives. In the future, small drives will likely be incorporated into cameras and TVs, some analysts have said.

Toshiba was the first major manufacturer to come out with a 1.8-inch drive, which can now hold up to 40GB of data. Apple, in fact, uses Toshiba drives in the iPod and enjoyed almost a complete monopoly on the supply of these drives for about a year, according to sources in the drive industry.

Competition in that market, however, has been heating up. Hitachi came out with its first 1.8-inch drive in November, and Dell adopted it in its Digital Jukebox.

Similarly, Hitachi, which acquired its micro drive technology from IBM in 2002, dominated the market for 1-inch drives until this year.

In the summer, however, Cornice, a start-up in Colorado, came out with a 1.5GB microdrive that costs less than Hitachi's small drive. Samsung has put Cornice's drive into a music player that takes up less space than those from Dell or Apple and a digital video camera that's slightly larger than a computer mouse.

Cornice will also announce new drives at the conference, which takes place in Las Vegas between Jan. 7 and 11.


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