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IBM enhances Pixie Dust for 80G mobile drive

IBM claimed an enhancement to its Pixie Dust technology has enabled it to produce the highest capacity mobile hard disc drive yet.

The Travelstar 80GN, samples of which are already being sent to notebook computer makers, is expected to be available in early 2003 and has a capacity of 80Gbytes.

The density with which data can be packed together on the surface of the new drive, called areal density, is 70Gbits per square inch (bpsi).

Because hard disc drives are built to a common size, it becomes impossible to increase the storage capacity by adding more physical storage space. To move ahead, engineers are working on technologies that allow more data to be crammed into the fixed amount of space available.

IBM's Pixie Dust involves sandwiching a three-atom-thick layer of the precious metal ruthenium between two magnetic layers. That seemingly simple step allowed researchers to increase the areal storage density.

At the time of its announcement in May 2001, the company had managed to achieve an areal density of 25.7Gbpsi. To increase it to the 70Gbpsi announced today, researchers added an additional layer of ruthenium and an additional magnetic layer to make a five-layer sandwich.

The announcement marks a big step towards the 100Gbpsi areal density that the company predicted would be realised in 2003. It also places the company ahead of Japan's Toshiba and Fujitsu, which earlier this year announced they had achieved areal densities of 52Gbpsi and 53.2Gbpsi respectively.

The pay-off for notebook computer users is an increase in storage capacity. Toshiba and Fujitsu have managed to produce 60Gbyte hard disc drives using their technology while IBM will realise a 80Gbyte drive.

IBM has also announced that it plans for a new class of Travelstar mobile hard disc drives with rotational speeds of 7,200rpm. That compares to the 5,400rpm speed of IBM's fastest mobile disc drives and is similar to the speed of drives found in most desktop computers.

In contrast, the Travelstar 80GN announced today has a speed of 4,200rpm. Drives at all three speeds will benefit from the enhanced Pixie Dust technology, according to IBM.

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