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Honey, I shrunk the CD-ROM

Philips demos dinky discs for use in portable devices

Ever one for innovation, Philips Electronics has been turning its attentions to the humble CD-ROM, developing a drive that can take optical discs that measure just 3cm in diameter — only slightly larger than a 10p piece. Yet the tiny discs can store up to 1GB of data.

The drive itself measures 56x34x7.5mm, making it small enough to include in portable devices such as mobile phones, digital cameras and PDAs.

The data capacity of the discs is one and half times greater than current CD-ROMs. This increase in storage is made possible by using blue laser technology, which has a shorter wavelength than the red laser method used in current optical discs technology. A shorter wavelength means that the laser beam can create smaller dots on optical discs, which means more data can fit on them.

In comparison with flash storage media, currently used by most portable devices, CD-ROM discs are cheap. Philips hopes that its mini CDs will be as widely distributed as conventional CDs and as such will also be available at lower cost than flash media.

However, Wolfgang Schlichting, a research manager of removable storage at IDC, highlights a number of challenges to getting optical discs into small devices.

There are three main points that need to be dealt with before such a drive can become viable. Firstly, optical drives are still too costly to install in handheld devices.

Secondly, despite the small size of the drive, it is still larger than a flash memory slot, so it would affect the form factor of any device it was added to. Finally, as optical drives are rotating media, they consume more power than flash memory cards.

"The technology is still at an early stage and we cannot determine when this will be commercialised," Philips' Koen Joosse said. The company hopes to shrink the 7.5mm height of the drive, while the 3cm-diameter for an optical disc is now small enough for mobile devices, he said.

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