Some of the industry's largest hard-disk drive makers showed off their latest products and prototypes at the Computex show in Taipei last week.
The demonstrations highlighted several industry trends such as the shift to faster SATA (Serial ATA) and SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) interfaces in the 2.5in drive market for notebook computers and the continuing expansion of data capacity in 1.8in and below drives for consumer electronics applications.
Toshiba demonstrated a new 2.5in SATA drive with 100GB capacity. Several of Toshiba's competitors have recently announced such drives and notebook computer makers are already beginning to integrate them into products.
One such notebook maker, Alienware, used Computex to announce its first notebook PC to be equipped with a Serial ATA drive. The drive, from Fujitsu is available in the Alienware Area-51m 7700 notebook that is aimed at the gaming market.
SATA is being positioned as a replacement for the parallel ATA drives commonly used in PCs and small servers, while SAS drives are targeted at larger storage systems that require the highest possible performance and reliability. As a result SAS drives are generally more expensive than SATA.
Fujitsu was also showing a group of 16 2.5in SAS drives connected together to provide 1.6GB per second of throughput as a demonstration of the speed of such drives. The drives have a rotational speed of 10,000 rpm and faster 15,000 rpm drives should be available around the end of 2006 or beginning of 2007, said Don Jeanette, senior manager of product marketing at Fujitsu Computer Products of America.
In the 1.8in drive space companies are coupling increases in capacity with physically smaller drives. Several companies were showing new 1.8in hard-disk drives that are equipped with ZIF (zero insertion force) connectors, which replace the more usual pins with a small and thin ribbon cable.
Toshiba's ZIF-equipped 1.8in drive measures 71mm in length compared to 82mm for its current drive with width and height remaining the same. The smaller drives are intended for use in portable electronics products such as digital music players and can help reduce the overall size of the finished product.
Among smaller form-factor drives on display, Toshiba was demonstrating a working prototype of its 4GB 0.85in drive. The product, which has the distinction of being the smallest commercially available hard-disk drive, is currently available in a 2GB capacity but the 4GB capacity drive on show should be available in the fourth quarter of this year, said Andy Tsai, a manager with the hard-disk technical department of Toshiba.
The 4GB version will be used in Nokia's upcoming N91 cell phone, he said.
Hitachi is also planning an improvement to its small form-factor drive line later this year, said David Chen, a field application engineer at the company's Taiwan branch.
HGST's 1in Microdrive line is currently available in capacities up to 6GB but a larger capacity drive will be available in the fourth quarter. The company is promising a drive with capacity between 8GBand 10GB and prototypes of the 8GB drive are working in a stable fashion in the company's labs now, said Chen.