June 4, 2006 9:00 PM PDT

Toshiba touts data density record with new drive

Toshiba says it has earned the right to say it's more dense than its competitors.

The Japanese electronics giant is coming out with a 2.5-inch drive for notebooks later this year with platters (the silver pancakes in a drive that hold data) that hold 178.8 gigabits per square inch, which will likely be a record when the drive hits shelves. The current record for areal density for a commercially released drive is 133 gigabits per square inch, according to Toshiba.

"It is the highest for any drive anytime, anywhere," said Maciek Brzeski, vice president of marketing for Toshiba's Storage Device Division. Brzeski added that it's unlikely competitors will come out with something more dense in the near future.

The notebook drive, the MK2035GSS, has a capacity of 200GB of data, 25 percent more than the 160GB drives touted by Seagate and Hitachi. (Drives get measured in bytes, while memory chips and platters are discussed in terms of bits. Eight bits equal a byte.)

The increase in capacity comes from a couple of different engineering tweaks. The drive combines perpendicular data storage platters. Perpendicular platters store data in vertical columns and thus can hold more data than traditional longitudinal platters.

Additionally, the new drive comes with so-called tunnel magneto-resistive (TMR) recording head technology, rather than giant magneto-resistive (GMR) recording head technology. To date, Toshiba has released perpendicular drives with GMR heads and longitudinal drives with TMR heads, but not a perpendicular TMR drive.

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The record, though, will likely last just for a while and applies only to other products that have already hit the market. Areal density doubles every two years and sometimes even faster.

Hitachi Global Storage Technologies plans to release drives with 230 gigabits per platter, but those likely won't come out until 2007.

Toshiba plans to begin mass manufacturing the drive in August. Notebooks containing the drive will likely come out in the fourth quarter, Brzeski said. The company will show off the drive at Computex, the weeklong computer and component conference in Taipei.

Because of the high density, the 200GB drive needs only two platters. It also spins at 4,200 revolutions per minute, slower than the 5,400rpm of some competing disks. Spinning more slowly cuts down energy consumption a little and is a result of combining TMR heads with the new platters.

Although Toshiba doesn't actively participate in all segments of the drive market, it's the current king in mobile. The company leads the market for mobile drives, with a 29 percent market share, according to research firm IDC. Toshiba also has aggressively pushed for more market share in notebooks, which helps the sister drive division that sells parts to the notebook companies.

In addition, the company helped Apple Computer get the iPod off the ground by becoming the first major manufacturer to produce 1.8-inch drives.

Toshiba started selling perpendicular drives last year when it came out with a 1.8-inch drive with perpendicular recording. The company also makes microdrives with 0.85-inch diameter platters.

Seagate is already shipping a 2.5-inch perpendicular drive. Drive companies typically increase the density of the products at a fairly rapid clip. Hitachi, meanwhile, will start to sell its Travelstar 5K160, a 2.5-inch perpendicular drive, in the U.S. this summer for $269. Hitachi also plans to come out with a 1.8-inch drive for consumer electronics, and small notebooks using the same technology will appear in the latter half of 2006.

Brzeski indicated that Toshiba also plans to release hybrid drives. In these drives, data is first stored to flash memory and then periodically dumped onto the drive. This allows the drive to hibernate most of the time and cut power consumption.

The first hybrid drives will come out with computers loaded with Microsoft's Vista next-generation operating system, which is tweaked for handling these drives.

"A lot of people are talking about hybrid today, but you don't really get the benefit of it," Brzeski said. "By mid-to-late next year it will get bigger."

Toshiba is one of the largest manufacturers of flash memory. One of its scientists, in fact, invented NAND flash in the 1980s, but the company and the inventor later split acrimoniously.

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gigabit, density, Hitachi Ltd., Toshiba, notebook computer

 

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