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Hitachi and Intel join forces on mobile phone drives

Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) and Intel are pushing the development of an interface technology that they hope will smooth the adoption of compact hard-disc drives (HDDs) into mobile phones, PDAs and digital music players.

Hitachi and Intel are pushing to develop an interface standard called CE-ATA (Consumer Electronics-Advanced Technology Attachment) that will lead to products from Hitachi by August 2005, said John Osterhout, director of business development at HGST.

While the specifications have yet to be decided, the CE-ATA will have fewer pins, consume less electricity, and be cheaper than other interfaces such as ZIF (zero insertion force) connectors that are commonly used for small consumer-electronic devices such as portable digital music players. Specifications for the standard will be complete by June 2005, Osterhout said.

Marvell Semiconductor, Seagate Technology and Toshiba America Information Systems are backing the new interface standard, and more partners will follow, he said.

"If you look at the other interfaces around, none of them are completely adequate for handheld devices. Hitachi has been selling microdrives for five years, and we know OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] are saying that nothing is a perfect fit," he said.

Several large mobile phone makers have already expressed interested in the new standard, he said. He would not identify the manufacturers.

Earlier this week, Samsung Electronics, which is challenging Motorola to become the number two maker of mobile phones, said it plans to start selling the world's first mobile phone with a hard-disc drive.

The SPH-V5400 is a clamshell phone with a 1.5Gbyte disc drive and a megapixel-class digital still camera. It plays music files stored in MP3 format, and has a built-in FM transmitter. The SPH-V5400 can store about 15 times more data than conventional handsets, Samsung said.

The possibility of putting hard-disc drives in phones began to be talked about a year ago as makers added more multimedia functions, needing more installed memory. Meanwhile, disc drive makers are putting more capacity into smaller drives.

In June Seagate said it would begin selling a 1in drive during the third quarter of this year. Seagate makes two versions, with capacities of 2.5Gbytes and 5Gbytes. This August, Toshiba announced that it had created a 1.8in drive with a capacity of 60Gbytes.

Toshiba will also be sampling a 0.85in drive that has a capacity of up to 4Gbytes. Toshiba has yet to finalise the capacity, but the drive will be available before 31 December this year, according to Makoto Yasuda, a company spokesman.

Toshiba said in January that it expected to put the drive into mobile phones and portable digital music players. Apple Computer's iPod and iPod mini use 1.8in and 1in drives respectively.

According to market research firm IDC, worldwide portable digital music player shipments will reach more than 25 million units in 2008.

The company forecasted that more than 25 million digital video recorders and 40 million video game units will be shipped the same year.

Although the companies backing CE-ATA are few in number, they do not lack muscle, Osterhout said.

"Hitachi and Toshiba are major HDD makers, Marvell is developing ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) and Seagate is just coming to the business. Intel has been pushing standardisation activities for 20 years," he said.

Paul Kallender writes for IDG News Service


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