Seagate returns to notebook disc drive market

Seagate Technology has released a new hard disc drive for mobile computers, the first since leaving the market in 1998.

Seagate Technology has released a new hard disc drive for mobile computers, the first since leaving the market in 1998.

The drive called "Momentus", features a speed of 5,400 rpm and includes a standard 2Mbyte cache. Users can also purchase an optional 8Mbyte cache.

Seagate will sell both 20Gbyte and 40Gbyte versions, and is already shipping these disc drives to its original equipment manufacturer (OEM) customers.

Compared with a 4,200 rpm disc drive, Momentus is 47% faster at opening a 12Mbyte Microsoft Excel file, 30% faster at copying a 170Mbyte folder, and 47% faster at shutting down Microsoft Windows XP, Seagate said.

Seagate quit the mobile disc drive market five years ago at a time when mobile comprised only a small amount of the total disc drive market, said John Paulsen, manager of product communications at Seagate.

The mobile market for disc drives is now the fastest growing segment of the worldwide disc drive market, said John Monroe, a vice-president at Gartner. A company as large as Seagate could no longer afford to simply be a bystander in this area, he added.

"Seagate has made a timely and strategic re-entry into this market," he said.

The company says the Momentus disc drives are quieter than ever. Its new QuietStep ramp load technology parks the heads off the drive during standby and reduces the clicking sound made by notebook computers when unloading and loading heads to the ramp.

The 4,200 rpm disc drives are still the most popular for notebooks but it is forecasted in the next year that 5,200 rpm drives will become the most desired, Paulsen said.

However, there are even faster drives on the market, but Seagate is looking to target a more mainstream market.

"The bulk of drives going into notebooks now are still 4,200 rpm," he said. "Last quarter under 5% of drives going into notebooks were 5,400 rpm or higher, but the expectation among the analysts is that it’s going to grow to about 18% this year and getting up to around half [of all notebook drives] by the end of 2004."

Paulsen said Seagate wanted to enter the mobile disc drive market with a product that would "capture the greatest growth opportunity", meaning one that was going to appeal to the majority of notebook buyers.

"That also explains why we introduced a 20Gbyte and 40Gbyte product at the time," he said. "You are also seeing products released by our competitors that have 60Gbytes or 80Gbytes, so higher capacities are available."

In 2002, 219.6 million disc drives were sold worldwide: 35.8 million were for mobile computers, 164.4 million were for desktop computers and 19.4 million were for servers, Monroe said.

By 2004, the mobile market alone is expect to grow to between 46 million and 48 million worldwide, he said.

Roger Kay, vice-president of client computing at IDC, said this is the right time for Seagate to be entering this market.

"Seagate is well positioned, it is highly profitable, they have a big share position in the desktop market and so this is a logical product line extension for them," Kay said.

Even though Seagate has three competitors in the mobile disc drive market, Fujitsu, Toshiba and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, Monroe said Seagate's foray into this market will likely be successful.

All three companies offer comparable drives to the Momentus, but Monroe said even with Seagate’s entry into the market the demand for mobile disc drives will exceed the supply for at least the new two quarters.

Rebecca C Reid writes for IDG News Service

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