IBM boosts notebook speeds and capacity

IBM has been sprinkling more of its "pixie dust" around to increase the density of mobile hard drives and has set a target for...

IBM has been sprinkling more of its "pixie dust" around to increase the density of mobile hard drives and has set a target for higher access speeds, bringing desktop capacities to the notebook market, writes Eric Doyle.

The next releases in the Travelstar range will have capacities of up to 80Gbytes using an enhancement to the fine-grained technology which was launched last year as pixie dust or, more formally, antiferromagnetically-coupled (AFC) layering.

The increase in capacity brings notebooks in line with desktop PCs and the new drives will be of particular interest to workers who use larger files for graphic design or video editing. Effectively, the notebook will be capable of doing what a high spec graphic workstation that cost about 10 times the price of a notebook would have done five years ago.

AFC allows the magnetic layer to use smaller particles and increases the storage density to 70Gbits of data per square inch. Combined with plans to increase drive speeds from 4,200 revolutions per minute (RPM) to 7,200RPM, the Travelstar 80 series of drives will be on a par with desktop drives - but the implication is that desktop drives may also double their density to 160Gbytes using AFC.

Pixie dust is a precious metal known as Ruthenium, which is sandwiched between two magnetic layers. In the new drives there will be another layer of metal and magnetic substrate, making a five-layer coating.

The presence of the Platinum-like metal, which forms a coating only three atoms thick, stabilises the storage medium, which would otherwise be prone to errors arising from small changes in temperature. This effect appears when the density reaches 20-40Gbits per square inch and AFC technology was so effective and seemed so "magical" to IBM scientists that they dubbed it pixie dust.

The new drives will appear in January with the 20Gbyte, 40Gbyte and 80Gbyte versions initially at speeds of 4,200RPM. Prices are expected to be $158 (£100), $224 and $420 respectively.

Later in the year, IBM plans to release faster access drives running at 5,400RPM and 7,200RPM. These are under development but, although noise has been reduced in the low-speed drive, these higher speed units may not be so quiet and will consume more power.

There are also questions about heat output and vibration but IBM says it is addressing this. It is not known how these improvements will affect weight, size or pricing.

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