The growing demand for low-cost, high-capacity and compact storage for mobile devices is pushing development of small form-factor hard-disc drives and the first of a new generation of sub-1in drives should hit the market next year.
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Toshiba is expected to be one of the first companies to show a sub-1in hard-disc drive. The company plans to show a sample drive product at the CES show which takes place in Las Vegas in January.
Toshiba would not provide any further details of the drive, but industry sources said that Toshiba and several other companies, including Matsushita, are working on development of drives with 0.8in or 0.7in diameter platters.
"Disc drives are going into more and more applications," said Thomas M Coughlin, president of storage market analysis company Coughlin Associates, during a storage industry conference in Tokyo in November. "Companies are looking at 1.8in, 1in and possibly 0.8in or 0.7in drives."
His predictions for the hard-disc drive market have 1.8in and smaller drive shipments reaching 3.3 million drives this year and climbing to 23.7 million drives in 2008 or, as a percentage of the overall disc drive market, from 1.4% this year to 5.3% in 2008.
The drives are expected to appear in products which require high-capacity data storage in a small form factor such as MP3 players, handheld digital video players and other portable consumer electronics and even some mobile telephones.
Responding to the demand, Toshiba is doubling production of its PC Card-size 1.8in hard-disc drive to 600,000 units per month by March 2004. The drives can be found in Apple Computer's iPod, Toshiba's own Gigabeat digital music player and some ultra-portable notebook PCs and are available in capacities from 5Gbytes to 40Gbytes.
Flash memory storage is the medium of choice for many portable consumer electronics products at present, although small form-factor hard-disc drives offer advantages in several areas over solid-state memory.
One of its prime advantages is high storage capacity at a low cost.
Prices for a 1Gbyte Microdrive start at $159 and the cheapest 1Gbyte CompactFlash memory card costs $205, the 4Gbyte Microdrive costs $500.
At present the market for 1.8in and smaller class hard-disc drives is dominated by two Japanese companies -Toshiba in the 1.8in space and Hitachi in the 1in space - but competitors are beginning to grab for a piece of the action.
Several companies are expected to launch 1.8in drives during 2004, including Cornice, brands its 1.5Gbyte drive the "strorage element" and is already shipping the drive to customers including iRiver and Digitalway for use in MP3 players.
Martyn Williams writes for IDG News Service