January 7, 2004 7:00 PM PST

Toshiba to go from zero to 300,000 in minidrives

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LAS VEGAS--For now, Toshiba has only prototypes of its mini hard drive, but the Japanese giant hopes to be making 200,000 to 300,000 by the end of the year, executives at the company said.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, Toshiba's Storage Device Division is showing off 2GB and 4GB hard drives that measure 0.85 inch across, slightly smaller than the drives currently made by Hitachi and Cornice.

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Because of their small size--Toshiba's drive is close to the same size as a Secure Digital card--small drives are expected to bring mass storage to cell phones, MP3 players, cameras and even video cameras, said Maciek Brzeski, vice president of marketing for Toshiba's storage division.

Currently, these types of devices largely rely on flash memory. Flash actually costs more on a bit-per-bit comparison, but it comes in lower densities, like 256MB, making it more affordable.

Ultimately, success will depend on volume. Manufacturers will ramp up production fairly quickly to keep the price down, Brzeski said. Toshiba doesn't have a price for its drive yet but said it will cost about the same as other minidrives, which are being incorporated into music players that sell for between $220 and $250. IBM came out with a 1-inch drive in the 1990s, but the latest iPod is one of the first products to incorporate it.

"It has got to be a high-volume product to be successful," Brzeski said, adding that the company hopes to be around the 300,000 mark by the end of the year.

Still, consumers have shown that they will pay for size. Toshiba was the first manufacturer to put out a 1.8-inch drive, a lead that took place in part because no one else wanted to enter.

"Everyone else stood back and watched and said, 'Go ahead.'" Brzeski said.

Apple, however, incorporated the drive into the iPod, and sales took off.

"The iPod was more than twice the price of (2.5-inch) hard drive MP3 players, yet it took off," Brzeski said.

Since then, Toshiba has shipped more than 3 million 1.8-inch drives. The small drives have also been incorporated into small notebooks in Asia, Brzeski said.

The upcoming 0.85-inch drive, which doesn't have a name yet, will weigh less than one-third of an ounce and measures only 32 millimeters by 24 millimeters, Brzeski said. The 2GB version is 3.3-millimeters thick, while the 4GB version is 5-millimeters thick.

Although smaller than standard drives, the device will be able to withstand accidents better, Brzeski said. Think of dropping a cymbal and a penny. The cymbal will vibrate far more because of its larger size.

"The smaller the device, the less mass you have to resonate," Brzeski said. "It is the resonance that blows it."

 

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