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Perpendicular media find drive

Posted: 01 Aug 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Rick Merritt? EE Times? Seagate Technology LLC? perpendicular recording? 1.8-inch drive?

Seagate Technology LLC stepped up the pace of its transition to perpendicular recording, rolling out nine new hard disks using the technology, including its first-ever 1.8-inch drive. The company also announced its first hybrid flash/hard disk for notebooks and an upgraded approach to drive encryption.

"They are ahead of everyone in terms of deploying perpendicular recording across their product line, but it's not clear to me how many of these products are actually shipping," said John Rydning, a disk-drive analyst with International Data Corp.

Researchers have been working for more than a decade on the transition from storing magnetic charges longitudinally to vertically on disk media as a way to pack more bits on a platter. Toshiba shipped the first drive using the technology last yeara 40Gbyte, 1.8-inch drive. Seagate is now setting the industry pace with a 60Gbyte, 1.8-inch drive and a broader array of perpendicular products.

"The first to market with a new high capacity has a profit opportunity," said John Rydning.

Seagate's first perpendicular drive, the 2.5-inch Momentus 5400.3 for notebooks, rolled out in December. It packs 132Gbits/inch? to deliver up to 160Gbytes per drive.

Earlier this year, the company rolled out the 300Gbyte Cheetah 15K.5 drive for servers and the 750Gbyte, 3.5-inch Barracuda 7200.10 for desktops. Both use perpendicular recording and are platforms the company is using to quickly roll a number of derivative products.

Seagate is using a unique approach combining tunneling magnetoresistive heads and perpendicular media with a deep magnetic layer of material. The resulting higher densities translate into greater reliability and yields because fewer heads and platters are used.

"We are the only company with perpendicular recording all across our major platforms," said Joni Clark, a product marketing manager for desktops and notebooks at Seagate. The company has yet to announce one-inch drives using perpendicular recording, however.

The 1.8-inch drive "completes the picture for us," Clark said, and is aimed at a combination of mobile systems including portable media players, handheld game machines, ultraportable notebooks, GPS and digital video cameras.

Like many mobile drives, the disk sports an accelerometer that can detect when a system is in free fall and park the heads to save data. It also includes a feature to compensate for motion.

IDC sees the market for 1.8-inch drives growing to 27 million units this year, but leveling off in the next two years. Nevertheless, IDC said that other companies will enter this market over the next year or two, including Fujitsu, which is co-developing a 1.8-inch drive with startup Cornice Inc.

Cache and security
Separately, Seagate announced its first hybrid hard drive. The Momentus 5400 PSD, shipping early in 2007, packs 128- or 256Mbytes of flash to take advantage of the Superfetch caching technology Microsoft built into its next generation of Windows, dubbed Vista.

The feature aims to reduce disk access to deliver as much as 30mins of additional battery life as well as faster boot and resume times. Samsung has shown prototype versions of similar drives. Hitachi Global Storage Technologies has also said it will support the technology.

So far, drive makers and analysts are taking a cautious approach about how quickly the hybrid drives will ramp.

"I think it will start out as a niche for the high-performance early adopter in the notebook market and start off a little slow," said Seagate's Clark. "But we are keeping our eyes on it because the approach could be useful someday outside notebooks," she added.

"We are still at an early stage with this product, but it's clearly a great opportunity for the drive industry to add value," said Rydning of IDC.

Intel: Not the drive
In a potential conflict, Intel Corp. would prefer to see the flash placed on the motherboard rather than on the drive, to improve its chances of selling its own flash to OEMs, added Rydning.

Taking another path to adding value, Seagate rolled out its Momentus 5400.2 FDE, a 160Gbyte, 2.5-inch drive that sports full encryption and uses the serial ATA interface.

A standalone security ASIC in the drive handles AES-128 encryption and can work with or without systems using a Trusted Platform Module on their motherboards.

The parallel ATA interface "was an inhibitor for adoption," said Rydning. Various players are securing portable drives using different approaches, however. "It's not clear to us how this will all shake out," Rydning added.

Among its other new drives, Seagate announced the DB35, a 750Gbyte, 3.5-inch drive tailored for digital video recorders as well as a separate version of the drive geared for servers. The company also rolled out the LD25.2, a low-profile drive sporting 80Gbytes for game consoles and desktop PCs.

Consumer electronics is seen as one of the strongest growth sectors for hard-drive makers in the next few years. IDC projects it will grow from sales of about $4.3 billion in 2005 to $14.3 billion in 2009. Sales should nearly double from less than 400 million in 2005 to nearly 700 million in 2009, according to the firm.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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